A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: My HEMA Loadout and Wishlist

I am a newbie to HEMA so I’m no expert but sometimes experts can forget to mention basic things they no longer are even conscious of which is the point of my blog. Hopefully, my posts will help a newcomer to Historical European Martial Arts navigate starting up this awesome activity.

This post is dealing with my equipment that I own or that I am waiting for delivery with an addendum for maybe buys in the future. I will also include some exercise gear and my books.

I would like to thank the reviews people like Matt Easton at Schola Gladiatora, David Rawlings at London Longsword, the gentleman at Hema Reviews, Skallagrim, Aidan Blake, the review teams at Blood and Iron, the guys at R/Hema who made the gear list, and the fine folks at Measure and Weigh. I have replaced a few bits of gear that weren’t working out for items they reviewed with a high opinion particularly the Measure and Weigh reviews. You guys really make it a lot easier for all of us when you share your insights with us beginners so we can avoid at least some of the pitfalls of starting Hema. If people don’t say thank you often enough I’ll just say thank you a second time just in case.

Don’t forget to clean and care for your gear. Sometimes that means a visit to a competent dry cleaner or a bit of Febreze or clear gear or hand washing in lukewarm water with mild detergent. Odor Gladiator is a good addon for your gear bag.

Speaking of gear bags I find that I get good mileage out of a cheap snowboarding bag. If I was traveling on a plane I would probably get a hard “Sportube” as I’ve heard they are great.

Don’t leave your gear in direct sunlight or damp area for too long. Baby wipes are great for plastic bits. Proper care of steel is important to avoid rust. Always ask your smith for the best care for your blade if you can as they should know best practices and tricks for longer life and aesthetics.

My previous articles on Hema:

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

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

My boy is wearing my mask in the featured image.

Speaking of my mask let us start with that:

Gajardoni Ancient Air Mask

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This mask is very protective and comfortable. It has a cool gimmick that does militate a hit to the upper head a small amount by pumping air into little bladders built into the padding like those old basketball shoes in the 80s. The main benefit is in helping the fit better match your head and mold a little bit better to your head in my opinion versus actually protecting you in a significant fashion. The ridge the splits the face bilaterally does a great job at dispersing the kinetic energy from certain types of hewing hits and helps make a full on thrust to the center of the face skitter off either to the left or right rather than sending the energy full on pushing the head and neck back.

I have a giant head so they were nice enough to provide a double sided velcro strip to act as an extender to the back straps to fit both my huge head and the included back of neck protection.

You can buy it here: Ancient Air Mask

Gajardoni Challenge Jacket

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The jacket is extremely protective and comes with a ton of modular padding you can choose to use or not for even more protection. The jacket has a built-in gorget (not sufficient for tournaments but a good supplement and it can be replaced with rigid material that probably would be tournament ready), shoulder pads, and elbow pads. Mine is tailored which is very worth it unless you’re very close to an actual size. I personally don’t use most of the padding but as I have a lot of padding built in it isn’t necessary. Very breathable compared to other jackets and it is surprisingly heavy to people who aren’t used to Hema jackets. Construction is excellent. My only nitpick is that there was a small error on the sewing of the pin side of the zipper pulling the pin closer to the fabric. This makes it surprisingly harder to hook to the zipper when your hands are behind your back to get the zipper started. Other than that the behind the back zipper works fine and the collar is great.

Since a commenter had a question about why there is no plastron I should mention again that it comes with basically enough modular padding/armor that can be velcroed directly to the jacket that there is no need for a plastron because it basically is a plastron. However, so far just the bare minimum padding is very substantial so I haven’t really used the modular padding. You can cut the padding as well to shape it into what you really want like if you have a lower left rib you are worried about you could cut out a section and stick it onto the velcro of the jacket and have a little extra protection in that spot.

You can buy it here: Challenge Jacket

Destroyer Modz Gorget

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Speaking of built-in gorget in the challenge jacket here is my main gorget (\ ˈgȯr-jət \). This is a very lightweight and simple gorget mainly to be tournament ready or for low gear sparring without the jacket or for single stick. Many of the different gorget designs can be quite large and substantial which can require modifications for guards when your arms are above your shoulders otherwise they can be restrictive. Since the Challenge Jacket already is very substantial in its protection I chose simple and to be honest relatively inexpensive. One problem I can see is if you have a very large neck the fit is tenuous and I think they would be well served to have a large size. Purpleheart was amazingly fast to deliver this to my door. I expected I’d be lucky to get it in a month or two but it was less than a week. If you’re a Hema Alliance member don’t forget to add your promo code when ordering for a discount.

You can buy it here: Purpleheart Armory Destroyer Modz Gorget.

Gajardoni Custom 800 Newton Breeches

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These breeches offer a lot of extra protection most of which I took out like I did with the Jacket. These are custom sized because of my stature but I would recommend bespoke gear in general as the extra cost is worth it even if you aren’t a giant. I supplemented the suspenders that come built-in with Holdup Suspenders as I am a giant and the suspenders are insufficient for the weight of the pants. They are no doubt just fine for your typical Hema enthusiast. The back pocket works well for a wallet or if you’re an Apple Pay/Android Pay type you can carry your phone instead so you don’t have to worry about people “lifting” it while you’re at a tournament. The material is incredibly well made and substantial without the extra modular padding. Some of the padding has a very soft velvet feel which is nice if you need the extra padding because of a wallowing buffel at a tournament.

You can buy them here: Gajardoni Breeches.

K-P Knee Pro Ultra Flex III Knee Pads

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This knee protection works great and is readily available for quick delivery or at many brick and mortar stores. It should fit just about anyone. It covers the side of the knee and is light. It is probably close to indestructible and protects amazingly well. It may be the cheapest, best, and accessible piece of gear in the Hema arsenal.

You can buy it here: Amazon.

Harrow Probot Shin Guard

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These shin guards work so well with the knee pro that it is magic. They are so much better than my previous set of shin guards. They have soft ends at the bottom to help defend the top of your ankle and not be painful. Once you pull up your socks they stay where they need to be and help anchor your knee protection which should fit and rest at the top of the shins. They don’t need straps or a wrap around which made me wary at first. One negative is that they don’t provide any protection to the back of your calf but they do great on the side of the calf as even with a giant like myself it wraps around pretty far. After use, it should kind of mold to your leg a bit which is nice.

You can buy it here: Amazon.

Compression Socks

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There is very little price difference between getting good compression socks and just normal fencing socks so I recommend compression socks. They also tend to be better constructed and better able to keep shin guards in place. I find they help me last longer on my feet and are great when you have to sit for a long time like a plane trip or road trip to the tournament. They also are supposed to help with a lower recovery time after the event or practice and are good for diabetics. You can buy them pretty much everywhere though I am sure there are quality differences depending on the place.

You can buy one of the types I use here: Amazon.

Forearm and Elbow Protection

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These are solid protections that I received from Gajardoni mainly because it was easy and convenient to just add it to the cart with the rest of the gear but there are plenty of different designs available. These are nice because they fit well over the jacket or without the jacket and my forearms are very large. The built-in elbow protection to the Challenge jacket actually works well to anchor the elbow part of this protector making it very safe from harm. Or since the elbow piece is separate you can undo the velcro and go without the elbow pad. The other good thing is that there are no gaps like a lot of designs running up the inside of the arm. So, good for longsword and good for low gear practice or singlestick.

You can buy it here: Gajardoni Forearm and elbow.

Koning Gloves

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These gloves are very well constructed with a very soft inner leather glove so you can get a good grip and feeling through the glove to your weapon. On the outer part of the glove the leather is harder and more durable seeming as that is where you’re going to get hit. It has a band around the wrist for extra protection without restricting wrist movement. Sandwiched between layers are rigid plates to protect the hand and in particular the fingers from direct hits by blunt steel blades. These plates can be maneuvered around while you use the gloves and get it prepped for you so the glove gets more tailored to your particular hand as you use it. When you first get the glove it can be hard to even fit your fingers in it but as you stretch it and get it used to your specific hand it becomes quite comfortable. It is very much like getting a baseball glove ready for the season.

It took me about a month of just working the gloves while watching Netflix or Youtube videos on HEMA to get the gloves comfortable.

These gloves are primarily for longsword but unlike most longsword gloves can be used with different weapons making them a good backup for even some rapiers or sideswords should something go wrong with your lite gloves. The wait time from Sweden is substantial though it is improving and now you have the option if you’re in America to get them quickly from Purpleheart Armoury.

You can buy them internationally from here: St Mark.

Kombat Gloves

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These are very well protecting lightweight gloves good for historical fencing with lighter weapons like sabres, rapiers, singlestick, or daggers. One thing to keep in mind that the extra knuckle protection can with some designs of rapiers make it a bit cramped if your hand is large and space is small. I also have very large forearms so with my jacket it can be difficult for the forearm velcro to fit around but that shouldn’t be a problem for most people. With the Challenge jacket having built-in elbow protection you can use these and not worry about forearm and elbow protection. If wearing without the jacket you can take the elbow part of the forearm protectors I showed above and use them in conjunction with the gloves if you want and if you have the little leather jutting out the end outside of the elbow cup.

You can buy it here: Gajardoni.

Type III Penti Synthetic Longsword

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Quick delivery as a surprise Christmas present for me. Well constructed and capable of taking a lot of punishment it is a great practice tool at home. If I had a real pell I wouldn’t worry about harming the pell or the weapon like I would with a steel weapon. But, it works well enough on my makeshift pole in my backyard and at practice with other synthetics. Don’t forget to use your Hema Alliance membership promo code when ordering.

You can buy it here: Purpleheart Armoury.

Cold Steel Synthetic Buckler

 

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Solid and practically indestructible this buckler is inexpensive and does the job whether using a synthetic or steel blade.

You can buy it here: Amazon.

Cold Steel Rondel Rubber Training Dagger

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Good and simple practice dagger that has good flex so you can safely stab your friends. Inexpensive and with easy accessibility it is a good addition to your loadout.

You can buy it here: Amazon.

Sisu Mouth Guard

 

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Good to have if you’re going to be doing some boxing, bartitsu, ringen, glima, or just common fencing grappling or wrestling. Don’t want to get your teeth knocked out on accident if you can help it.

You can buy it here: Amazon.

NuttyBuddy Cup and Compression Shorts

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Gotta protect your “nutty” and this combo of shorts and cup works very well. It must take a ridiculous amount of force to break this.

You can buy it here: Amazon.

 

*Edit* Some people have commented that this gear is mostly high end and expensive. However, some of the costs were lessened by getting a bulk discount from Gajardoni for buying a lot of gear on one ticket, the exchange rate and intro price when I bought the Koning gloves made it about a hundred bucks cheaper then going with Purpleheart or buying direct from St Mark, and buying quality is cheaper in the long run when you calculate healthcare costs in the states with the length of time quality gear lasts. Another thing to keep in mind is that I gave away my overlay partly because it didn’t fit well and partly because with a great mask I barely felt the hits anyway. People mentioned a plastron as well which basically comes with the Jacket in the form of modular extra padding which I also found to be over the top when using a good jacket but if I needed something like a plastron I have something better that comes with the jacket which would alleviate part of the cost. */Edit*

Books:

Treatise on the Subject of Fencing: Marco Docciolini’s 1601 Fencing Treatise: Amazon

Only about halfway through but I am enjoying reading it. It reminds me of Liechtenauer in that it is very straightforward and focuses on being simple without flourishes or fanciness. Very matter of fact. It would be nice if the book had a longer foreward that went a bit more into history on the period and maybe an index with some insight from the authors on how the treatise could be used in a modern HEMA context. I did find this on HROARR which was interesting to read about dual sword use. I will probably look for videos to help me understand the author better.

Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies: A Nineteenth-Century Treatise on Boxing, Kicking, Grappling, and Fencing with the Cane and Quarterstaff: Amazon

I love the history and story of the first half of the book. Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery seems like such an interesting individual and his students include some surprisingly famous individuals. If a competent tv team took him or Jaguerina on as a tv show that would be amazing. The second half is the Colonel’s actual treatise which is worth reading from my limitied understanding of the material. I would’ve liked an addendum with a modern practictioner’s point of view and perspective on using the techniques, learning them, teaching them, and applying the lessons of the book in a modern Hema context and perspective.

Nicoletto Giganti’s The School of the Sword: A New Translation: Amazon

Just received it but I’ve read snippets and watched videos on Giganti who so far is very clear compared to some of the other authors of the time period. Will no doubt be getting the lost second book in the future.

Exercise Gear:

I get a lot of mileage with my NSD spinner which is fun to do and I think helps build up finer muscle control for a strammazone type cuts as you’re making very tight circular motions to get it to spin. If you check out my previous post on exercises you’ll see a link to the one I have.

From Iron Mind I have a Captain’s of Crush Trainer, Blue Iron Egg, and the elastic bands. The Trainer is good for a handful reps a couple of times a day for building your grip strength which is important for sword work and for things like the benchpress. If you want to push your grip strength get an additional gripper of higher tension and use that to step up the difficulty as you will quickly see the Trainer become relatively easy once you get some practice and learn how to grip it properly. The Iron Egg I squeeze while reading a book or watching a video and same with the elastic bands which are fun for building your forearm and fingers and can help with injury.

The Gripmasters I use at work though I have destroyed them pretty badly. I have the 9 pound and the 11 pound and if you do the pinch grip give you a good workout for your fingers. Great for building your bass playing skills especially the pinkie and of course your grip for Hema.

The Theraband is good for if you get tennis elbow and for your grip do a pickup grip on the tips of the band and twist and that will get your whole forearm and fingers working.

Battleropes are fun and I get double use out of my makeshift pole/pell.

I have a Valeo medicine ball which is good for working out your core and I like to lay down and throw it up with my right arm like I am punching out or making an oberhau. Exercising the lazy way while listening to a podcast or youtube video drone on is a-ok with me.

Balance pads and agility ladders are good to help get your feet moving and your balance better which is a huge part of any martial art and will help you get better at dancing too!

 

Wishlist/Waitlist:

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For my steel longsword I am looking at the smith Logan Black of Black Horse Blades. He now has three Hema training blades the Arbeitsferd, the Eisen Pferd, and the Grosse Pferd. I like the Eisen Pferd design the most which is the blade above. I have communicated with Logan on Facebook and he has been extraordinarily pleasant and if money had allowed I would already have his work in my home just for their customer service soft skills. His site is Black Horse Blades.

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For my steel rapier and dagger, I am on the waitlist for a Danelli Armouries till Christmas of 2018. So many beautiful works of art on the site you can get distracted very easily if you’re a sword enthusiast. The rapier above is one of his most beautiful though way out of my price range. His website: Danelli Armouries.

Over at Castille Armory there are a lot of good looking blades. The link is to an inexpensive clamshell rapier with a lot of good reviews. For Hema I recommend from my research that you get the F3 blade and a lobed tip. Length of the blade is, of course, a contentious issue and depends somewhat on the master or tradition you’re studying though in general the taller you are the longer the blade. Keep in mind that some tournaments have length maximums and most of the lengths on bladesmith sites for rapiers include the ricasso. The bronzed work looks great in my opinion too. Over at Blood and Iron they recently did a review of a custom blade Sam made that the lead instructor gushed over. They have some amazing sabres that are tempting.

For sword and buckler I am looking at just a basic arming sword by VB available at Purpleheart. And for my own singlestick I think I will be grabbing the leather basketed one from Purpleheart as well. There are a lot of cheap singlestick options but the Purpleheart Leather are pretty and durable.

For sabre not from Castille I am thinking about just snagging a cheap Hanwei Hutton from Amazon because I get bonuses from work each month in Amazon gyft cards so that would make it easy to get and the Hanwei’s are okay.

If I get more into the lighter weapons I will probably eventually get a Diamond Jacket from Gajardoni as it is just amazing looking and better suited for lower impact weapons.

 

 

 

 

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

So, when you aren’t practicing drills or reading treatises there are a few things you can do to help get your body into shape. I won’t go into the basic stuff that is readily available in many formats but I will go into a few suggestions that are a bit unusual or are not widely known outside of their niche or help with building up the arm below the elbow which most generic exercises don’t focus on.

One of the reasons for the inclusion of some of the exercises and tools below are that you can do them while being a couch potato when your exercise/swordplay motivation ebbs. Little things make a big difference. If you can get your lower arms stronger or have more endurance you will find it is easier to get back into HEMA practicing later as you won’t get so fatigued or have as much difficulty doing different maneuvers.

Think of a feedback cycle. When the motivation is gone do the little stuff so you’re ready when the motivation comes back to jump in without to much loss of function or even improvement.

I will start saying I am no expert but I created this for people who aren’t experts and aren’t in great shape who are wanting to get in better shape so they can get more out of their bodies during practice. If you have a suggestion or warning please comment.

At the end, I am adding any exercises that were provided as comments when I posted to the HEMAA Facebook Page along with solo sword drills that are HEMA specific and I think work well.

When I got my buckler I instantly thought that it might be a great tool for low weight reps while watching videos on my PC. I do punches, moulinets (using the handle like it is a hilt), and windshield wiping wrist rotations. You easily do hundreds of reps while being a couch potato and if you already have the buckler it doesn’t cost anything extra. Below is an image of antique buckler I found at the Lennart Viebahn website. There are some really cool miniature arquebus pistols there which are really impressive for the time period there.

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Just found this intriguing video and haven’t tried it yet from Sword Carolina:

NSD Power AutoStart Spinner is the “Featured image” for this post because it is super cool and it is what I have. There are more expensive versions and cheaper ones than the one I linked to but this is the best bang for your buck. This is an exercising tool utilized heavily by golfers who want to build dense and dextrous forearm muscles just like we do. It is fun and easy to use. It is also used by people to help with carpal tunnel and tendonitis. There are many different brands and versions. Below is a “Powerball” model review from a hockey player but the basic concepts apply.

Kettlebells are can be very useful. Be careful getting started and don’t buy a cheap one unless you’re ready for a 35 pound or more ball to go flying should a handle break. Get one that is all one piece without any welding or anything that might hide any welding marks. If you can get started with an instructor at least one time before you do anything crazy or weird with this as you can injure yourself if your form stinks. I don’t have one myself but messed around with one back in high school.

The Gripmaster Hand Exerciser is useful for building individual finger, hand, and wrist strength and is another thing you can do maybe at work or while reading. There are many different variations and brands to choose from. Most have a set level of resistance but a few have resistance that is variable which is useful if you are using this to recover from a hand injury and building back up your strength. The video below is for guitar and bass players that I used many years ago when I played both. He has some suggestions on different exercises.

Agility Ladders are really useful for building up your lower legs and helping you become more cognizant of your footwork. Some allow you to move the bars to different lengths and hook up extra ladders or miscellaneous items to make a little obstacle course. This can help when you are trying to do solo drills and need to force yourself to think outside of the linear box common to kendo and modern olympic fencing. Taking advantage of traversing and sidesteps are an important part of your martial art toolset.

Resistance bars are great for recovery and are designed to help with tennis elbow which can plague a swordsman as well. The brand I linked to rates the resistance by color so be careful picking one that is appropriate for you. They also are very good at improving grip strength. There are a lot of different exercises out there that use these flexbars for different issues so be sure to look up different exercises or invent your own just don’t break your wrist.

Battle Ropes are a lot of fun and help out with building both your arms but also your core and is a very inexpensive way to get a full body workout. It will wear you out as muscles you rarely use flare up and make sure you’re paying attention. Start with a few basics and build your way up. I recommend starting at 1.5 inch and 40 feet if you’re not in fantastic shape which is what I have.

Balance Pads are very good for improving your balance and building your lower leg strength and tone. They will help your footwork and if you’re anything like me you probably need the help.

Gravity Fitness Stretch Strap is good for helping increase your flexibility and range of motion. If you’re going to be practicing lunges a lot this might be useful for you.

Medicine Balls allow for a whole series of great exercises that you can do while watching your favorite show lying on the couch. There are more movements you can do in a more serious fashion such as using a medicine ball like it was a sword or a basketball and making a motion as close to as you can to an oberhau and sending the ball to a wall for example if it is the type that bounces. This can build up your explosive “punch-like” force you need for longsword. There are many types and weights to choose from. The link above goes to my medicine ball which is middling size and weight and great value for the price. Most gyms these days have medicine balls so you can try them out and find one that works for you.

 

Suggestions from Facebook:

Shanee Nishry’s website showcases her exercise regime of about 30 minutes a day of Meÿer Square / Cutting Diagram Longsword drills. Check it out.

Susan Kirk mentioned that Indian Clubs can really help with both strengthening arms and shoulders as well as helping flexibility of wrists, elbows, and shoulders. It is great for both balancing out muscles on the left and right sides as well as improving coordination.

Indian Clubs at Purpleheart Armoury.

Incline Steel Club is on sale and it should arrive soon.

Solo HEMA Drills and Exercises:

If this doesn’t get your newbie muscles burning quickly you’re either in great shape or doing it wrong!

This drill gives you something extra to do by forcing you to change directions while swinging your sword. Footwork is my greatest weakness I think so try this or variations of this out.

Blood and Iron is a great resource.

Matt has quite a few different solo drills on his site. I like this one and the ones he made when his right hand was injured.

This flow exercise has some direction changes and good practice for attacks from the Italian Longsword perspective.

And this video below is a 64 cut drill by Matt Galas I haven’t even tried but is something I can look forward to being able to do one day!

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

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

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: My HEMA Loadout and Wishlist