I’m not going to get into whether martial arts in general are expensive. Any hobby, particularly when it becomes your major passion and something you travel for, can become expensive. The specific expense I’me here to look at is the addictive bling that goes with HEMA. Yes. I said “bling”. Which I understand is now terribly out of date (so I’ll never be down with the kids) but sums up how arms and armour end up taking over your life.
I started out with the standard loose clothing suitable for some exercise and needing to borrow a sword from the instructor or the club. The weapons in use at the time were smallsword and military sabre. However, circumstances meant I spent more time doing smallsword.
At some point, there was an order of importance for kit: mask, gloves, stab-proof fencing jacket, chest protector, sword. It was, I was informed in a half-joking manner, good manners to intend to get two swords so that one could always arm an opponent as my instructor had armed me.
So, when I bought my first sword I bought it knowing I would at some point have more than one, with the intention of possibly having a collection. And that’s the moment the rot set in.
(Armour / clothing is a whole other post I may get around to some time. It is rarely as obviously shiny as swords, though.)
My First (Sword) Love
I went high-end with my first smallsword and bought a good but expensive simulator from Paul MacDonald. The “simulator” basically means it has a smallsword-like hilt (in this case, a cast of an original) with a sports fencing epee blade.
Smallswords can be extremely good looking and shiny (just look in a museum that has weapons) as they were a relatively late duelling weapon. And many of them weren’t actually functional as they were intended as a piece of status jewellery. Hence the bling comment earlier.
I made a promise to myself that I would only spend so much a year, so I didn’t buy a second smallsword simulator for a while. However, in the intervening period, I detoured through learning some other weapons, which leads to…
Collections Are Ever Expanding
There are very few clubs that focus on one weapon all of the time. There are some clubs, like the one I attend, whose focus shifts over the years as people move away or move in – and as instructors gain enthusiasms. So here are a few of my expansion pieces:
To the left is Alfie, an [Alfred] Hutton training sabre for a particular style of infantry sabre. I no longer have Alfie as a) he was an antique and deserved some respect and b) I no longer study sabre. It was not my favourite style, so poor old Alfie never got used or even looked at.
This is a pappenheimer rapier hilt. Swords can be considered an ongoing evolution with rapier coming somewhere between smallsword and the older longswords and arming swords. As with smallsword, they were primarily a thrusting weapon. They’re also “complex hilts”, which leads to some lovely looks.
My next set of swords were actually plastic wasters (which don’t photograph as nicely). These allow me to make hand-and-a-half swords, which are long enough for me to use as a longsword, and one handed swords, as well as baskethilted broad- or backswords, and falchion and messer types. I bought two of everything needed to be able to take them apart and reconstruct them as somethign else. As none of these are my preferred weapon, it worked out quite well for my purse and my kit bag.
I bought this feder from a friend when longsword started to become more of a focus at the club. A federschwert is a traditional style of longsword trainer. It’s designed to more flexible but with the same length and isn’t actually that much lighter. My kitbag did not thank me for this one. (I needed to buy a new one and even then it didn’t fit properly.)
I also have some escrima sticks and a leather dussack, but they’re not quite as photogenic
Arming The Opponent
As fencers in my group of HEMA friends go, I’m actually quite restrained about the doubling up. I have a number of friends and acquaintances who have enough weapons for a small army. It’s fairly common to see a table covered in swords at some event only to find that the swords all belonged to one person. The usual thing is to smile and say, with a shrug, that one has so many of each kind of sword to arm an opponent. This isn’t entirely true but it’s a good excuse.
HEMA covers a multitude of styles and eras. I said before that swords evolved – and this is with fashion, with function and with manufacturing techniques. The smallsword is essentially a rapier that can fit in a coach or a theatre box without stabbing yourself or your companion. The rapier is essentially the arming sword with a more complex hilt (a combination of fashion and manufacturing technology) that protects that hand better. And, of course, there are other family trees for weapons with a single edge, for those intended for cutting, for those intended for display, for those used on horse back, and so on.
This means that there are several forms of hilt for each type and different fencing techniques worked better with (or, sometimes, weren’t invented during the use of) particular swords. At some point, one hits a sort of “got to catch them all” realisation, it’s just a matter of how tightly this is focussed. Some people want all the swords, some people want all of examples of one type, and some people manage to restrain themselves, if only because they don’t have the money, to a two of what they use regularly. At six and a half years in, I’m still a beginner.
My latest addition to the kitbag has just arrived at its new home. I commissioned a cup hilt rapier with accompanying off-hand dagger. The cup-hilt is a style that comes after the pappenheimer and offers more hand protection – and I got one that is basically a simplified version of a very decorative hilt. Although it might not be obvious to everyone, the cup hilt on the rapier is a flower. The sail on the off-hand dagger has been shaped to be more leaf like than usual. Who says weapons can’t be feminine?
Due to budgetary concerns (and the fact that I like my functional jewellery to be expensive), my previous “double up” was bought three years ago. It was a spadroon simulator that doubles as a smallsword simulator. Basically, it’s another sports fencing blade on a slotted spadroon hilt – a light cutting and stabbing weapon not dissimilar to a smallsword.
On the plus side, I can now give a smallsword or a rapier to an unarmed opponent!