Thursday, 14 June 2012

Can't talk...

...busy training.

Please disregard all previous moping. Time to get my HEMA face on.


Sunday, 3 June 2012

HistFenc Review


I recently had an order from HistFenc (http://www.histfenc.com/) arrive. HistFenc are a Polish company that produce kit designed for HEMA. Today I finally had an opportunity to test the equipment, so here's a review of it all. We only got kitted up, tested the mobility and did some Federschwert sparring, so these reviews are 'initial reactions', not 'tested to destruction'. I'll keep you updated on how they stand the test of time.

I received a small discount and free shipping, for making a large group order. Excellent. Unfortunately there were delays with getting some of the products ready - but these things happen, and the HistFenc team was in constant communication. The HistFenc guys replied to our emails politely, promptly and helpfully. Top marks for customer service.

Personally, I ordered the "Axel Petterson" Fencing Jacket; Padded Skirt; Groin Protector; Integrated mask overlay with occipital protection "Trinity" (Prestige model); Forearm and Elbow Protectors and the Calf Protectors. This works out to 'all the protective kit that they have', more or less. I'll be reviewing the pieces independently, but also bearing in mind the level of protection that they provide as part of a 'full ensemble'.


  • "Axel Petterson" Fencing Jacket - 165 Euros.


The jacket is available in both standard sizes and custom fitted. I ordered a standard 'Medium' size for myself, and also for my brother to try before deciding (he has the shoulder to waist ratio of Captain America).
The jacket has been reviewed several times in other places - you can read some of them for yourself: http://www.histfenc.com/productcart/axel-pettersson-fencing-jacket
I thoroughly agree with them. It is the best jacket I have tried to longsword fencing. The mobility is a lot better than a coach's jacket (or for that matter every gambeson that I have tried). Most of all, the cut and fit of the jacket stops it riding up the body if you lift your arms above your head, you can still roll your shoulders forwards and back and so on. As the other reviews say, the collar is too wide for my mask's bib to sit on the outside, but with the bib inside mobility was fine (and the jacket collar is turned over to catch blades). On the other hand, the design of the collar and the zip at the front was fantastic in terms of cooling and ease of use. The only mobility draw-back I felt while wearing the jacket was a bit of resistance to bending my torso at the waist, but that was negligible.
In terms of protection from bruises, so far I have only done federschwert and nylon freeplay, but the jacket was perfectly fine and I'll keep you all updated. I have no idea how resistant it would be to a broken steel blade on a lunging fencer, but then again experience has shown that Olympic fencing gear won't hold up to that either. I suspect wearing the jacket will be better than wearing a T-shirt, but it doesn't seem designed to be stab-proof. A lunging fencer with an intact-federschwert? No problem.

4.5/5 - The collar annoyance and the fact that the jacket isn't made of puncture resistant magical material prevent me from giving the jacket an absolute 5/5, but it is the best longsword fencing jacket that I have tried.


  • Padded Skirt - 55 Euros.


The Padded skirt is exactly what it says on the tin. Made of thick gambeson-esque material, the weight sits on your wise and hips, and it stops your hips, groin and top of the thighs from being exposed, especially if your jacket lifts up. The flaps stop above the knee, and never seemed to get in the way. It is only made in one Unisize, which meant that of my tiny friend it was slightly too large, but for me it was perfect.

5/5 - It does the job. For a reasonable price. Without any issues. Excellent.


  • Groin Protector - 7 Euros.


This is one of the 'Clockwork Orange' style suspensors, holding a pouch with a plastic cup in it in front of your genitals. Protecting them is obviously important, but it's very difficult to come across a groin protector which is comfortable, doesn't limit mobility, and also protects you. This model is 'off the rack'; it's cheap, doesn't limit my mobility and is relatively comfortable for me to wear. Initial impressions are good.

4/5 - It isn't the 'Holy Grail' of jockstraps, but I have no complaints about the product.


  • Forearm and Elbow Protectors - 44 Euros.


These are quilted, wrap-around forearm guards with hard plastic inserts. They are designed to dissipate the force of an impact over a wider area. This model has an additional flap that protects the outside of your elbow from blows travelling up your arm, and to some degree from the side as well. They are comfortable and well made, and seem to do their job well (perhaps eliminating the need for separate hard elbow protection). I'll report back on that one when I've been hit harder!

4/5 - They haven't yet been tested to destruction, but initial impressions are good.


  • Calf Protectors - 39 Euros.


These are very similar in design and function to the Forearm protectors. They don't fit me quite as well (again, being unisize), being tight around the base of my calf. I'll extend the 'fluffly' side of the velcro further, and it will cease being a problem. For people without out of proportion calves, it may not be a problem at all. The design certainly covers the sides of your calves better than conventional 'shin guards' or 'brush cutter guards'. They are well made, although I think that HistFenc should consider adding knee protection into the design. At the moment, the knees are unprotected, and it may be worth developing a design that protects the knee as well, like the Forearm Guards protect the elbow. Whether a design that protects the side of the knee is feasible (or for that matter can be competitively priced against 'brush cutter guards' that do the same job, is another matter.

3.5/5 - They are a solid product that achieve what they are intended for. However, that I need to make some minor adjustments, that it is relatively expensive for the job it does, and the fact that the overall ensemble leaves the knees exposed means that I'm wary of giving it too high a rating.




  • Integrated mask overlay with occipital protection "Trinity". Prestige model. - 120 Euros.
An overlay with a good fit.

The mask overlay sits on top of a standard fencing mask and provides additional padding, a larger bib, throat and back of the head protection (from hard impact - a normal bib will not protect you from having a crushed windpipe), as well as limited protection to the collar bones. The overlays are well made, out of leather and fabric with solid plastic inserts.
The construction is solid, and I felt (but wasn't hurt) by a hefty blow to the back of the head today that normally would have stopped me fencing for a few minutes. The bib construction is also good. Getting the cover on and off (and also taking on and off your mask while it is on) is a little bit of a nuisance when you are wearing gloves, but I'm sure will become easier with practise. On the other hand, the covers are fairly heavy, and certainly restrict the amount of air-flow that travels through the mask, making it a lot hotter to fence

Not this is where the review becomes difficult. Each piece was individually made to our measurements. There was some confusion about the measurement that we needed to give and although HistFenc were helpful and informative (and have improved the information on display) - I think that we still got the measurements wrong at our end. It is the kind of problem that could have been solved in five seconds face-to-face, but by email (between four different people in two different countries) was rather difficult.

We received three overlays. One of them fits our masks well, but two of them are far too big. A correct fit seems to seriously affect the overlay - too large and they shift as you move and the mask turns inside the overlay so that it obstructs your vision.
An overlay with a poor fit.

Fortunately, when I got back in touch with HistFenc (asking how best to adjust the mask size), they responded with the following:
“Trinity will be produced in couple of different sizes based on Leon Paul masks to avoid mistakes with sizing as it happens with your order.
By the way, please do not change them yourself. Send them to us with new dimensions of your masks (taken just before the rubber band around the mask). We will fix them and send them back at our expense.”
Which goes to show quite how good the company’s customer service is.

?/5 - A proper fit is essential, but they do a very good job of protecting the throat and back of the head. On the other hand they are hot and a bit bothersome. I’ll update this review when I’ve tested them with a proper fit.

Conclusion:
HistFenc has come up with a great line up of custom-tailored Historical Fencing gear. What's more, they have excellent customer service and a genuine desire to improve their products and make sure that they among the best designed and most reasonably priced on the market. I sincerely hope that the company is successful, as they are an asset to HEMA.



Rhetorical Questions

My life's been dominated by work recently. I've still managed to attend a few Exeter sessions, but Plymouth has become more difficult. I'm going to begin Olympic fencing again instead - as much for the exercise as any other aspect of training.

I've also been thinking a bit recently about the difference between 'doing HEMA' and 'training a HEMA', but that feeds back into 'doing HEMA for entertainment' as opposed to 'finding training a HEMA entertaining'. Which in turn raises questions about 'What does it take to create a good training atmosphere'. That in turn brings in other things like 'Multiple coaches who know how to train people' and 'a set space reserved for training in.' and lots of other things. It all boils down to 'I don't know how to keep training well beyond ten basic sessions in one aspect of one martial art.'

And then I think that if boxers can achieve the levels of skill and athleticism that they do, with do little, how come HEMAs (especially in this country) don't?

And how come other groups, in other countries, have progressed so far ahead?

Lots and lots of rhetorical questions here. Imma gonna go and order some sparring gloves, so that I can train better rather than whining.

HistFenc review coming up soon.