by Jayson Barrons
Once you install it, you won’t take it off.
Head protection in HEMA isn’t talked about particularly often–there’s the occasional discussion around concussions, or the proud display of photos when one gets their head “waffled.”
Outside of that, people generally consider the debate around what to wear on your noggin either moot or a topic worth little more than a pragmatic shrug.
Despite his bravado and persistent smile, maybe we should let Josh Parise of Destroyer Modz change that.
DM’s 82nd mod, a hardshell install to a bare fencing mask, offers some of the best protection on the market today.
The version in review is the “shorty”, which has reduced clavicle protection compared to the full 82nd.
It was purchased without knowledge of a review during DM’s kickstarter program in 2015. It arrived far earlier than the original promise, as Josh had ensured that anyone who attended Longpoint 2015 received theirs during the tournament. It was installed onto a bare Absolute Force mask shortly thereafter and has been in heavy use since that time.
I had no relationship with Josh prior to receiving the gear, and the only communication since then was to ask about installation, give him feedback, and recently I informed him of the review.
Note that all of the pictures were taken after I had cut off the clavicle protection (more on this later).
At the time of the install, Josh had yet to provide video instruction of the installation process. This was reasonable, however, since the mod was received earlier than anticipated, and Josh has been forthcoming as to the status of the video.
He’s currently selling the mod as both pre-installed onto a mask, as well as a DIY version.
Having said that, the install process did take effort, despite being fairly straight forward.
You place the mod over the mask, and mark where the holes need to be spaced (it’s recommended that you secure it in place to ensure accuracy, but not required).
You then use tools (I used a wood awl) to separate the mesh on the mask where the holes need to be. This took effort and care, as the AF mask has a fairly strong mesh. It’s not recommended to use a drill, as that can weaken the mesh.
After the mesh is properly prepared, you then slip the cover on and screw it in place with the provided chicago screws. The original screws I believe to be aluminum, and I ended up upgrading them to stainless steel screws I purchased on amazon, as I was worried since the heads of the screws had deformed when getting them in place. I do not know if Josh has since upgraded the provided screws.
The back of the head was easy enough on the AF mask since it simply took putting a hole in the back of the head hook and screwing it in place. However, since the hook is covered in fabric, the BOH protector had ripped off once during a particularly aggressive sparring session. This was easily fixed, as I just used a larger piece of kydex on the screw and have had no problems since.
Josh clearly takes pride in his work and is a skilled craftsman. Despite being made by hand, the quality is extremely high. There isn’t a single burred edge or oddly shaped angle.
The mod is made from a thick Kydex plastic and a high impact foam underneath. , with no extraneous decoration or useless additions.
I’ve previously owned two masks–the notorious AF “bunny ears”, as well as a bare mask that I used with various cloth protectors. All of them offered so-so protection, and I had been waffled when wearing every one.
One of the chief complaints of the cloth protectors is over heating and additional buildup of CO2 in the mask. But with the 82nd mod, the first is virtually eliminated, and the second is reduced significantly.
This is because it offers its protection where it’s needed most, with materials that don’t build up heat or enclose the mask too much. It makes for a breathable and less sweaty experience. Additionally, the mod doesn’t have so much as a scratch on it, and my mask hasn’t been dented once since I installed it.
Additionally, due to being made from Kydex, it’s ridiculously light. I used to wear my bare mask during training due to both the weight and heat from the cloth protectors, but I don’t notice any difference with the 82nd mod installed.
The protection is where the 82nd mod shines, however.
Previously, particularly hard head hits would ring my bell. Both of my old masks had their share of dents. The 82nd mod, however, does an exceptional job of making a strong strike to the head far less jarring.
The thunder of the 82nd Mod
“But reviewer, isn’t reducing the pain of head strike going to cause fencers to be more suicidal? Won’t it ruin the art of historical fencing?” My reply: “Don’t be such a fucking tool.”
In an almost hilarious, but certainly unintentional twist, I protect my head even more. Why, you ask? Because when the Kydex is struck, it is LOUD AS FUCK. Painful? No. Annoying? Perhaps. Virtually embarrassing? Absolutely.
This means that even relatively lower power strikes to the head, even incidental contact, are undeniable. You don’t wonder if they happened, you know they occurred. There’s no debate.
This turns the sound into a more sensitive form of feedback, and I have definitely adjusted my fencing because of it. It is, without humor, one of the big reasons why I will never go back to a cloth cover – in a duel or other unarmored situation, even if a strike to the head wasn’t close to being fatal, I would still be quite aware that an opponent’s weapon was grazing my skull.
It’s a need few in the community have really considered, and while I’m fairly certain neither did Josh when he designed the 82nd, it is no less valuable.
The Bad–or, at least, the Meh.
I originally left the clavicle protection of the mod in place, but, in the end, removed it completely (one of the benefits of Kydex is that it’s incredibly easy to cut with a shop knife).
Our club both studies early KDF, as well as that dirty Meyer stuff. I enjoy throwing zorn hut into my play (if you’re a Ringeck elitist, zorn hut is a guard Meyer employs from behind the head for deceptive purposes. It’s also extremely similar to a couple of Fiore guards, but it’s more fun for people to bitch about Meyer).
Since zorn hut can be used close to the head, on more than one occasion I literally caught my blade on the clavicle protection and firmly wedged it in between the mod and the mask. The results were hilarious, and yes we have video.
But despite being shorter on the mod I purchased, it still occasionally interfered with higher guards. This will already be a point of frustration with folks of stockier frames, and is exacerbated by the mod.
Having said that, since the removal I have had zero problems with the mod.
As previously stated, the mod was purchased through Josh’s Kickstarter, so I cannot review the more retail experience of purchasing through his website. Additionally, the mod was discounted during the Kickstarter and was cheaper than the now $125 USD price tag.
Despite this, Josh is fantastic to interface with. He was always prompt with answers to my questions, always friendly, and always willing to offer advice. He kept up constant communication during and after the Kickstarter. In a world of HEMA gear providers, Josh is easily one of the best to deal with. He is not happy if you are not happy, and is always open to feedback.
The mod is admittedly not cheap, especially when people look to skimp on their masks first before anything else they purchase. It’s not for beginners, but for practitioners who are dedicated to the craft.
But the mod is a joy to experience. The lower heat buildup, the weight and construction, and the additional sensitivity mean that I cannot see ever going back to another head protector. Despite a few minor flaws, I can confidently say it’s the best additional head protection on the market.