by Meg Foyd
So the day has come to post a review about the well-known Fechtschule Gdansk Sparring Gloves. Sparring Gloves has been in the hand protection business since the spring of 2011. The glove comes in two styles currently—the mitten-style glove, originally designed by wide-known Polish fencer Jan Chodkiewicz, and a three-fingered style glove designed by Barbara Chlebowska. Both types of gloves are custom-made to the customer’s hand. Measurements are provided from following a simple template provided on the website (see the picture below). This process was fairly straight-forward. You trace your hand on a white piece of paper, take some simple measurements, and scan the photo in (or in my case, take a picture with my cellphone) to attach to your initial email to send in.
However, since the final product is only part of the experience of being a customer, I’d like to include a review of the general treatment I received from the company, as well as the glove. I contacted Sparring Gloves in late June to order a pair of gloves. I received a very courteous reply to my email order within 24 hours. I informed them that I would need my gloves before Swordfish this year, as I didn’t previously own a legal pair up to steel longsword tournament standards, and they assured me this was certainly possible. I ended up receiving my gloves much faster than I had expected—I was assuming it would take 6-8 weeks to make a pair of gloves and to ship them out. In the end, I received an email from Sparring Gloves by the end of July that my gloves were ready, and I paid via Paypal. The gloves arrived via UPS within a week. All in all, this was a very fast turnaround time for a pair of custom gloves (just outside a month). Most of all, I was impressed at the promptness and kindness with which customers are handled, which is not always the case in an industry dominated by artisans working on their own. Sparring Gloves is excellent in terms of customer service.
So on to the gloves. I ordered a pair of three-fingered gloves and took them with me to fight the weekend after I received them at the Southeast Renaissance Fencing in Atlanta, which included a steel tournament. Having badly hurt two fingers at a tournament in March because I was wearing inadequate modified lacrosse gloves, I ended up being very grateful for having the sparring gloves. I sustained several hand hits in the steel tournament I’m certain would’ve broken or badly sprained my fingers wearing my lacrosse gloves. The gloves are very good in protection—I walked out with nothing but some bruised knuckles, instead of broken fingers. And I cannot express how excellent it was to fence in a pair of gloves that were small enough to fit my hands properly. Being female, most gloves I’ve found are at least 2 cm too long in the fingers, and nothing is more frustrating than trying to handle a sword with empty cloth hanging off the tips of your fingers. Just the increased ability to move my hands around in these gloves was a real pleasure.
However, there were some difficulties I had to deal with. If you own an Absolute Force jacket with the built-in plastic forearm guards (as I do), make a note that the sparring glove will probably not fit over your jacket sleeve. Mine did not. I improvised at SERFO by stuffing the gloves in through my sleeves and then wiggling my hands through into the glove. Needless to say, this was a very snug and uncomfortable fit. I ended up modifying my jacket by putting zippers in the front of the sleeves so I can open them up and put the gloves on, and then zip the sleeves shut over top. This was relatively easy and cheap to do (cost about $10 in thread and zippers from Walmart’s fabric section), but if you aren’t prepared to sew or cut your garment, it’s something perhaps to note. I don’t consider this a huge issue, as I am planning on purchasing a SPES Axel Pettersson jacket eventually, and fencers I know who have a SPES AP jacket and sparring gloves don’t seem to have the problem with the cuff of the glove fitting over their sleeves like I did. (Also, Sparring Gloves now offers customization of the length of the cuff of the glove, which was not available when I ordered, so this problem is easily solved simply by requesting a short cuff when you place your order).
The only other note I would make is that you probably need to purchase a thin pair undergloves of some sort (biker’s gloves or mechanic’s gloves) to wear with the sparring gloves if you are worried about chafing your knuckles. After a weekend of fighting my knuckles felt a bit bruised and raw from not using any undergloves, particularly the knuckle of my index finger. I am still experimenting to find one whose fit I like.
The gloves, like many pieces of vital HEMA equipment, are not cheap—but they are also not made cheaply, which shows in the quality of the glove. They do not seem like they will fall apart easily, unlike other gloves from other companies I’ve seen in the past. The company has recently made some impressive gestures at making the gloves more widely accessible, as well. They dropped the price of the three-fingered glove from 230 Euro to 180 Euro and the price of the mitten glove from 200 Euro to 150 Euro, which is a substantial savings. They are also now offering some attractive customization options of red leather and red or white thread for the gloves, which is quite attractive for the fencer looking to customize their kit.
All in all, I feel very protected in these gloves, and I think they do everything you can reasonably expect a glove to do if it’s not a steel gauntlet. I’ve been subjecting them to heavy use since I received them at the very beginning of August, and they’ve stood up well so far. I expect to get several years of good use out of them. As of right now, if you are looking for non-metal gloves that are legal for use all steel longsword tournaments including Swordfish, I would not recommend another glove above the sparring gloves.