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Chest Protection: The Nitty Gritty About Titties

6 Comments

by Meg Floyd

It’s come up time and again, usually a new fencing student or coach with a new female student asking, “Do you need chest protection? If so, what do I buy? Is it absolutely necessary? Do I need to wear chest protection to compete?” This article is to discuss a few of these items, and to clear up some popular misconceptions I see cropping up time and again.

1. Is chest protection absolutely necessary?

My answer to that is – yes and no. It depends very much on any number of factors of the woman:  how sensitive her breasts are to getting hit, and her comfort level with the chest protector, and so on. Does the female fencer absolutely feel she needs a chest protector to feel safe when fighting? Then by all means, yes, wear a chest protector. Is it absolutely necessary and required at most tournaments the way a man is required to wear a cup? No. Getting a hard hit in the breast can be painful, but it won’t end your ability to have children or send you to the hospital like a torsioned or ruptured testicle will. Most of the longsword tournaments I’ve attended in in the last three years recommended but did not require chest protection. (This could be different for rapier tournaments – I do not fight rapier, so I’m not familiar right off the top of my head.) In my view chest protection is much more about pain management and comfort level than mitigating life-threatening risk the way a gorget or mask does.

2. But chest trauma causes breast cancer! 

This is probably the most pernicious myth floating around out there. No, breast hits do not cause chest cancer. It CAN cause scar tissue that makes breast cancer tissue more difficult to identify on a mammogram, or much more rarely, fat necrosis. I’ve taken some hard hits to the chest over the last few years, both sparring at home at my club or in tournaments, and have yet to develop either, for what that’s worth.

3. What kind of chest protector should I buy? 

That depends on a few things. How well-endowed are you? How much mobility do you need? How much protection do you need? Can you even find your size? I’ve seen smaller-chested women can get away with having great mobility in the solid plastic chest plate style of chest guard which gives me tons of problems (the main issue being that the chest piece doesn’t flex, taking away the horizontal mobility of my elbows and making it difficult for me to go into high guards when fighting longsword.) The protection level of these, however, is great. I could get whacked in the chest and not feel a thing. If you want high protection and can move around well enough in this thing to fight, by all means, wear the solid chest piece.

However, my inability to protect my head was troubling to me. When I did wear chest protection, I opted for the turtle shell separate cups stuffed between a sports bra and over my regular bra, because this was the best compromise I could come up with between protection and mobility.

4. Wait, are you saying I’m probably not going to get breast cancer/fat necrosis/break my xyphoid process if I don’t wear a chest protector to fight in under a heavy fencing jacket?

Yes, that’s what I’m saying, with a caveat. If you’re fencing steel sans jacket at speed, you have bigger things to worry about, like a blade breaking and stabbing you. Very rare, but it has happened, and is the main fatality risk in the sport we study. I saw the video, and it wasn’t pretty.   If you are wearing a jacket, preferably a SPES AP ladies’ jacket (because in terms of fit and protection, ladies, we should accept no substitutions), then no, I don’t think a chest guard is absolutely necessary. I don’t wear one, and the ability to protect my head and move around has cut down on my injuries far more than wearing the chest guard did. My main point is, don’t buy into the fear-mongering. A good bit of it is overblown, because understandably people at large squirm at the thought of breasts getting injured.

But, as with anything in the larger context of HEMA, it’s all a question of risk vs. reward. Do you think going without is too risky? Then wear one. Wonder what it’d feel like to fence without one under your jacket? Then give it a try. You might like it.

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6 thoughts on “Chest Protection: The Nitty Gritty About Titties

  1. At the rapier tournament I was at a couple of months ago (I was only a spectator) it was mandatory to wear chest protection for both men and women

  2. As far as I see this, it is not the problem of injury (of course if you wear protection, that risk is much more small) but the risk of having false positives on a mammogram is the real problem. As I understand it, to identify a false positive from a real positive, there is (small) surgery needed which means that there is a time where you are in the constant anxiety that you really do have breast cancer.
    So our club’s policy is that women should invest in proper breast protection, just as men need a cup when we go to serious sparring sessions. But then again, this is an individual choice and our club simply wants to be on the safe side for this.

  3. Neil Byrne of HEMA Ireland recently shared a “recipe” for making a chest protector for his wife using thermo plastic. You can find him on Facebook.

  4. Pingback: Building Your Longsword Tournament Kit (Women’s Edition) | HEMA News

  5. Pingback: The Brahilda Tutorial: DIY Minimalist Chest Protection | HEMA News

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