What Shoes should I buy for fencing?

Above all, when it comes to footwear and fencing - relax. Most hema schools or clubs are not full of elite fencers who need footwear to give them the tiniest of advantages. Wearing shoes that are comfortable and give you good support is 99% of the time all that you need.

It’s also going to depend on what surface you primarily fence on. If it’s a softer surface, wrestling shoes will be fine. If it’s a harder surface, then court shoes, such as squash shoes, volleyball shoes, or indoor soccer shoes will be great. Even the Nike Metcon, designed for crossfit, is gaining in popularity in the sport fencing world for being a reasonably priced shoe that has almost all the same features as a dedicated fencing shoe.

If you’re still worrying too much about footwear, look for these features:

  1. Lightweight

  2. Internal cage to support lateral movement

  3. Decent cushion that doesn’t raise the heal too much (avoid running shoes)

  4. You like them.

That’s it! Some people even fence in combat boots - it’s not about the footwear.

What about historical shoes? I heard that they make you a superhuman.

Unless you are doing reenactment or a presentation, just don’t. Ignore anyone who tells you that you will fence better in them. They’re not designed for modern floors, can be expensive, and your mileage will vary on quality. If you want to ‘feel the earth,’ then get some barefoot shoes.

Shouldn't tournaments simulate a duel?

While there are certainly some tournament organizers who have that as their only or at least primary goal, there are several other worthwhile focus areas in tournaments such as showcasing a particular set of skills or a certain school of fencing.

A tournament's focus areas are reflected in the rules the organizer chooses to use. As an example, a rule set might reward "deep" targets more than "shallow" ones, reward whoever hits the other fencer first, give points for pulling off a certain set of techniques, etc.

This distinction between a duel fought in earnest and a tournament fight fought for some other purpose that tests a limited set of skills is found in several the sources and traditions that HEMA is based on:

  • The Bolognese tradition has competitive rules that disallow hand hits and give extra points for hitting the legs, which aren't exactly the most vital targets. (1)

  • The Franco-Belgian fencing guilds ran tournaments using a "king of the hill" format where the fencers were only allowed to hit with the flat, had limited target areas and the "king" was given advantages over the challenger. (3)

  • Fiore writes about having taught his students "both for fighting at the barrier and for mortal combat". (2)

So to conclude, tournaments can be geared towards certain aspects of historical fencing by tweaking the rules to reward the kind of behavior one wants to see. Simulating a realistic duel is certainly one valid approach, but it's not the only one worth exploring and certainly not necessarily the one the organizers of a given tournament have chosen.

  1. https://blog.marozzo.com/2012/09/08/the-competitive-side-of-bolognese-swordsmanship/
  2. http://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Fiore_de%27i_Liberi
  3. http://mindhost.tumblr.com/post/109975087767/franco-belgian-longsword-tournament-rules-short

(written by g2petter on reddit.com/r/wma)

Why can't I use blunts in tournaments? Blunt look better than feders.

Caveat: there is more variance of opinion on this topic than some of the other ones we're covering, but ultimately it comes down to this - no tournaments backed by federations allow them, and they aren't going to change that anytime soon. If you want to spar with a blunt, that's at your own risk (and may violate your insurance policy), but we suggest giving up on trying to convince a tournament organizer. You're just going to piss them off.

  1. There's less mass in the blade, resulting in milder impact forces
  2. Feders are designed to flex, especially in the thrust. Blunts are flexible, but typically not to the same degree.
  3. Feders typically have safer tips, or at least are easier to mount a safe tip onto.
  4. Feders typically have thicker edges, spreading the impact forces out.
  5. Feders are historical, even if the modern variants are different. We don't know for sure, but similar modern designs confer benefits to safety, so there's a chance they were used for the same purpose historically as well.


Should I use a heavier weapon?

Billy Grandy already wrote a thorough, fantastic article on this subject. The short version - heavier weapons don't do a good job of building strength, can cause you to overcompensate in ways that hurt your technique and form, and that you're actually probably better off using a lighter weapon, so that way you can train longer.

Read his article here: https://thehemaists.com/2017/05/07/should-you-be-training-with-an-extra-heavy-sword/

I have no clubs near me: how do I get started?


All too often when the community gets this question, we find out that the person does in fact have a club that's an hour or two away. While this may feel like FOREVER, we recommend seeing if they have weekend classes, and then trying to attend 1-2 times a month.

Training on your own is virtually impossible (unless you use something like Sword Carolina), as you can't give yourself feedback on your technique. And fencing isn't just about how to do X move or Y parry - it's a dynamic, strategic discipline, and these are things you just can't self correct without years upon years of training.

Even just once a month will do wonders for your progress. And even if you don't have a club within 1-2 hours, look at kendo or sport fencing. They both teach fencing fundamentals, and you can absolutely apply those things to HEMA. Just beware of too much frog DNA - they can still cause artifacts in your training.

Should we start with steel or synthetics?

First question - are you in a club? If so...then ask your club.

If you're just starting out, then synthetics might be your best bet. You don't know yet just how serious or long term your training will be. A good synthetic will cost you around $120 USD. A basic steel trainer is at minimum $200 USD, and the better ones are at minimum $260 USD. So, for the cost of one steel, you can get two synthetics.

It's really important to stress that synthetics are not, in fact, any safer than steel. They can still break fingers, damage someone's throat in a thrust, or cause a concussion. Slow play is still recommended until you get better protection.

I'm looking at motorcycle padding/football equipment/plastic faceguards because I'm on a budget. Are they safe?

Short answer: no.

Motorcycle pads are designed to protect you against abrasion and falls on large surface areas. They're not intended for thin edged steel. There are too many gaps, and in those gaps, there is *no* protection.

Some people start to think they can augment these pads into making them safer, but given the effort and money you'd put into it,  you're coming very close to buying a HEMA jacket in cost.

There are a number of jackets that can be had for at or under $200 USD, and they'll keep you safe.

Especially when you're new, you don't have the control or ability to keep you or your sparring partner safe. If you're starting up a study group in a park, you're better off at slow play with basic fencing masks (which can be had for around $60), and slowly building up gear. 

You have to remember that  you are practicing martial arts, and it's very easy for adrenaline to take over and cause yourself real harm.  And most HEMA insurance won't cover you if you're using inadequate gear.

I'm in a club: what gear should I buy?

Ask. Your. Club. First.

It cannot be stressed how important this is; each club has their own culture, sparring norms, and gear requirements. Some clubs prefer slow play and research, others earnest sparring bordering on competition levels. 

Strangers on the internet don't have that context. All too often we see people purchase gear based on someone's opinion, only to find out their club doesn't allow that gear. As an example, I almost purchased a Leon Paul mask, until my instructor told me they wouldn't allow me to spar with it. They saved me from an expensive purchase.

This goes for everything from jackets to masks to weapons.

Don't be shy about asking your club mates to borrow their gear and try it out. Unless you have a lot of disposable income and are willing to risk trial and error (which is how MAW even came to exist, actually), you'll end up buying more gear that you hate than gear that you love.

HEMA isn't one size fits all, and asking your club for recommendations is about as close to a universal truth as we have. Save yourself the time, energy, and internet snark you'll receive by asking this question.