HEMA has gone through a lot of progressive development in the last decade. The community is growing rapidly and bouts, tournaments and other forms of sportive sparring have become a standard part of practicing Kunst des Fechtens. The demand for weapons suitable both for practice and sparring is definitely as big as the demand for good protective gear.
Unfortunately, most of the weapons used by hemaists today do not meet the condition of versatility. Despite the availability of well-made swords practitioners choose weapons which are sometimes not even suitable for proper fencing practice. Finances or just a "recommendation" often stand behind the decision or in some cases just a bad orientation on the market or irrational beliefs.
However, it is really essential for any kind of fencing to choose and buy a proper and suitable weapon since its properties and characteristics may not only positively affect the quality of fencing and open the door to many techniques, but also negatively affect your training - either from the point of view of your own health (poor balance, heavier weight may serve as an enormous burden for the joints and muscles), or of the general safety (impact force can easily cause injury to you or your colleague).
When evaluating a weapon, every sword should fulfill the next quality criteria:
- A good ratio of the length vs weight - that means a modern replica which is of 105cm total length has not the slightest reason to weigh 2.5kg (note: this ration will be evaluated over time for some normative index).
- Well-grinded edges - the edge of a sword should not be too sharp or too blunt (wide). Sharp edges are less immune against fission and may cause cutting injuries. Blunt (wide) edges inflict painful impact (mainly with techniques like schneiden (slicing)).
- A good balance - we know from experience that swords with POB closer to the cross are more suitable for umbschlagen (cutting around) and the swords with the POB farther from the cross are more suitable for vorschlagen (first, initiative strikes) techniques. Although this criterion is rather of individual preference a versatile sword should have its POB balanced between these two factors.
- Sufficient flexibility of the blade - Sterck (first half of the blade) is firm, fixed while the Swech is flexible in approximately last third of the blade and is able to withstand great pressure and does not bend ultimately (e.g. it has the ability to bend at an angle of 90 degrees and returns to its original state).
- The handle is long enough according to the type of weapon (in our case a langschwert with a 105cm blade at least for three fists) and the covering material feels comfortably and natural in the hand.
- The pommel is an adequate counterbalance for the blade, it is not oversized and sits comfortably in the hand (as we need to manipulate it freely from many angles).
- Blade profile commensurate with its intended purposes and properties.
The art of fencing is definitely not one of the cheapest hobbies and to buy a weapon is often a long-term investment. So far we were talking about the criteria of a good weapon but also a good producer should meet some requirements:
- Reliability - the manufacturing processes and materials used ensure reliability that each piece produced will have the same properties (e.g. a group orders a batch of ten weapons of the same type and receive weapons with different proportions, balance, weight etc in an inadmissible range.
- Validity - the products serve its proclaimed purpose (for example you want to order a sword suitable for sparring and you get a sword barely suitable for supervised training).
- Delivery time - the manufacturer complies with the agreed terms.
- Price versus performance - we cannot pay a horrible sum of money for unfinished or roughly made weapon which is also ugly or if I have to pay 500 Euro for a sword, I expect it to live for 10 years.
- Durability - the sword should last at least a year of intensive use before you hang it on your wall.
Since our Society has cooperated intensively with Pavel Moc for a long time, he contacted us at the end of last year with an offer to participate in development of a prototype of a new sword model, designed and intended for training as well as for sparring purposes. As with Pavel we have only good experience and he has the abilities to create such a weapon, we did not hesitate and started to work together to design an optimal and versatile sword called Fechtschwert (or Federschwert).
The Fechtschwert (or Federschwert, like the hemaists today use to call it) is the name of the sword used for practice of Kunst des Fechtens. Its origin is not entirely clear but it appears in many illustrations in the surviving manuscripts and prints from Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Its shape however provides necessary features for safe practice such as flexibility of the blade, protects fingers with the help of Schilt (shield) and offers an overall pleasant handling qualities in the exercise. We can only guess that the same properties (or perhaps a simpler production process) are the reason why this particular type of sword became a favorite companion of the medieval swordsmen.
The result of our cooperation, and especially of Pavel's crafting skills are four prototypes simply named A, B, C and D.
We have been testing these swords for three months now and the result is that we are overall satisfied. Each sword has slightly different properties and based on their handling quality we determined what seemed to us to be good and what needed to be changed. Our notes and comments have been submitted to Pavel and the final swords should be available in his spring 2012 portfolio. It should be noted that these four pieces are not the finished products - the final products will differ in some details (decoration, type of cross, strength of the Sterck etc.).
Since these swords are just prototypes and Pavel literally demanded us to "destroy them" it has been necessary to learn what they are able to withstand . We exposed them to various pressure and stress test and we really tried to hit them hard against each other, not only on the blade but also edge against edge (I know!). We also let them fall on the ground from certain heights and the swords are also used regularly in various kinds of sparring. All weapons are still in one piece and look perfect. The absolute winners of our testing are the models B and C, from which Pavel will produce the final products.
The proportions and weight of the final models are:
Blade length: 1050mm
Tip width: 25mm
Cross width: 280mm
Schilt height: 65mm
Schilt width: 80mm to 45mm
Weight: 1750g POB: approx 50mm from the cross
Blade length: 1020mm
Tip width: 25mm
Cross width: 280mm
Schilt height: 70mm
Schilt width: 80mm to 50mm
POB: approx 45mm from the cross
Pavel`s Fechtschwert sits very comfortably in hand and due to a long handle, manipulation in the bind is very easy and feels natural. When handling the sword in handarbeit, I use to move my hands freely within the whole lenght of the handle, sometimes I even hold my thumb on it. This is very useful when you want to avoid being sliced in some specific bind angles or to get different kind of leverage.
Both of the pommels provide a different feeling and the choice between the two is more a matter of preference. The "B" type pommel is intended for people who like to grab it and work with it holding the pommel from different angles to support windings etc. The "C" type pommel serves as a true counterweight for the blade. You will definitely love it if you like to hold both of your hands on the handle while swinging the sword around delivering multiple cuts to your opponent.
The crosses are nice and able to withold a lot of pressure even from a direct cut. However, the next generation will have round edges to make the cross even safer.
The schilt is a must on a KDF-intended sword. It protects your fingers in the bind leading the opponent`s sword away. Despite the schilts being very well and nicely done on Pavel`s swords it really serves its purpose. Some techniques, particularly long-point thrusts can be executed with more control when holding your index finger over your cross. Without the schilt this could be really dangerous to your finger. So far I haven`t received a single hit when doing this with Pavel`s swords.
Most of the controversy when discussing the right properties of a Federschwert goes to the blade. The more the blade bends, the safer it is for your partner. The problem is the point where the blade starts to flex. If it is closer to the cross, you tend to loose more control after being hit. Vice versa, if the point of flex is closer to the point and the sterck is stiffer, you have full control of the point even after being hit but the blade needs to be thinner in the end in order to bend.
A lot of us have heard about the Hanwei Federschwert and particularly the 2nd generation which were designed in this way, but there are just a few people who own a surviving piece. Pavel`s Fechtschwerts have a very good flex, but for the second generation we asked Pavel to make them a bit stiffer in the sterck in order to gain more control. Still, these swords are the safest we`ve ever used for sparring. Their POB, lenght and blade profile make the impact even softer. When using a leather cap on your fencing mask even powerful cuts will leave a comfortable and safe feeling.
We believe that these weapons will be fancied by many hemaists around the world and will become their faithful companions for a long time. Moreover since we want to make our competitions and trainings safer it is necessary to gradually introduce firm requirements and criteria for weapon manufacturers. Only through gradual standardization can we set up a correct path for the future of sport-historical fencing, but that is a topic for another essay. The complete gallery can be found here.