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Leon Paul Titan Pro Jacket: Becoming a Tank

by Peter Smallridge

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These professional looking shots are by LP. Amateur looking ones are by me. Semi-professional are from bystanders at tournaments.

Review Methodology

I was given this jacket in exchange for writing a series of HEMA-related articles for Leon Paul. The Titan Pro is their latest HEMA jacket. It’s 800N tested, and it looks like the mutant lovechild of a bomb disposal suit and a sports fencing coach’s jacket.

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How does it feel in use?

 Construction

Form

This jacket has a back zip, and a cuissard (“diaper strap”) to minimize the risks of a thrust getting inside the jacket. The collar is not just a turned-over blade catcher but has an insert running inside, protecting the Adam’s apple and acting as something of an in-built gorget. The upper fastening, where a velcro patch secures the collar over the top of the zipper, is highly secure. No fear of the zip slipping down.h360-2.jpg

 Base Material

I’m no expert on fabrics, but this is a heavy jacket. My first thought on picking it up was “I wonder if this could stop bullets.”

Inserts

Without the inserts, it feels like a heavier coach’s jacket. The distinctive feature, though, is 10 removable HDF (that’s blue foam to you) inserts around the torso, collar and upper arms. They’re held in internal pockets, and sit securely when you move – no shifting or opening of velcro.

It does not have in built elbow or forearm protectors, but does have a loop to help attach external elbow guards.h360-3.jpg

I rapidly decided that since I had a throat guard that covered the traps and collar bone, I’d remove the collar and shoulder pieces. The rest go in or out depending on the contact level I’m fencing at.

Performance

Putting the Jacket On

It took me a stupidly long time to get used to a back zip. I can put it on myself, courtesy of the zip strap, but it feels awkward and can be a test of mobility and coordination during a long tournament or hard training session. However, it’s comfortable once on. This jacket was custom fit, and it feels it. The only limitation on mobility was raising both arms vertically while the shoulder pieces were in*, and bending the torso forwards against the front panel insert. That’s it – and neither of these is common in fencing.

Fencing in this Ferrari Armoured Fighting Vehicle

The downside of the thickness is heat and sweat. The fabric doesn’t absorb sweat anything near as well as my old SPES AP jacket, and I feel distinctly hotter and damper when fencing in it.

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Testing shoulder mobility in the St Petersberg FechtTerra tournament

On the other hand, mortal weapons cannot hurt me now. I’ve had sideswords bent to right angles on the thrust to my belly and NOT NOTICED. I’ve had Russian Battle of the Nations-trained fighters club me with SPES solid dussacks and picked myself off the floor without bruises.

On the other hand, I discovered that the seams on the arms, where the insert pouches are on the outside rather than inside of the jacket (to avoid having to invert the sleeves to access them) catch blades. No harm done, since there’s still a full layer underneath the top pocket one, but the stitching tore on a thrust to the bicep that spun me around.

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Sizing

 Custom-sized, it was perfect. I haven’t needed to use the adjustment straps.

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Price

As mentioned, this was payment for some writing I did for LP. The RRP is £280 inc. tax, less than the SPES Hussar and equal to the Garjadoni 800N jacket. Subject to the whims of exchange rates, of course…

 Conclusion

If you’re in need of a really solid jacket, this is the one for you. If your group doesn’t fence hard, it may well be overkill.

*Editor’s note: If you’re tall like the reviewer. If you’re short like the editor, perhaps buyers beware. **

**Author’s note: It’s custom fit. It’s not really a tall/short thing, just the inevitable fabric bunching above shoulders (even with this good cut of seam) plus semi-rigid insert. Removing the inserts made handstands much more comfortable.


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Review – Longsword by Lukas MG

Introduction
The Oakeshott XVIII and subtypes were “the most widely used swords between c. 1410 and 1510 all over Europe”. Distinguished by their slightly convex taper and diamond cross section, these are well balanced between the cut and thrust. They’ll also to my eyes the best looking kind of sword, especially in the bastard and longsword forms.

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This sword is a XVIIIa, based on the partial fuller, but is otherwise comparable with type XVIII sub-type longswords like the Albion Regent. The crossguard is quite plain – a straight square piece with some minor but attractive changes in diameter.

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The grip has an attractive and (as we’ll see) comfortable waisted grip, with an Oakshott type V pommel.

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Overview
Lukas Mästle-Goer (http://www.lukasmaestlegoer.com/) is a HEMA longsword practitioner who has branched out into swordmaking. He made this sword both as a personal piece and to show his skill level in the hope of attracting commissions. As a full time medical student, his turn around time is (self-admittedly) not as fast as a professional full time sword maker, but he expects to partly balance this by not stacking commissions in a waiting list to keep turnaround  time under a year.

He was nice enough to send me this sword for hands-on examination, including test cutting, and review. Why not check out his report on the process of creating it?

Measurements and Specifications:

Overall length: 122.5cm (48“)
Blade length: 94cm (37“)
Handle length: 19cm (7.5“)
Blade width at base: 5.2cm (2“)
PoB: 11cm (4.3“)
CoP: 60cm (23.6“)
Forward pivot point: just behind the tip
Hilt node: 6cm (2.3“) behind guard (just where the handle‘s cross section changes)
Weight: 1467g (3.2lbs)

Handling Characteristics
My first reaction when I lifted the sword from its case was a giddily positive one. It moves well in the hand, with a great combination of blade presence and agility. When I say agile, I mean that the rotation from squeezing one’s grips alone can be enough to make an audible noise as the blade moves through it’s arc, without really employing the wrists or arms.

Given that agility, it doesn’t feel light. I’ve got a 1.2kg Cervanka replica of the Munich longsword and that feels light in the hand. This doesn’t. If my “light” longsword feels like a swallow darting about, this is a kestrel. There’s that feeling of power and, dare I say it, lethality that tells you it can cut before you even start moving it.

I haven’t fenced with it, because it’s a sharp and I’m only willing to push my luck so far. In solo drilling though, it handled great. It twists, it turns, it leaps out in strikes.

There’s only one alteration, in fact, that I’d make to the whole sword. I found in some grips, especially langort extensions, the pommel was painful against my left palm, especially after a few rounds of cutting practice. Maybe rounding it’s corners off a little more might alleviate that, although it’s only a minor complaint. Otherwise the cord and leather grip with its two risers is comfortable and ergonomic, and made the alignment and pressure easy to feel including when changing grips.

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I have cut with it, though. I’d say that Lukas left as perfect an edge as I’ve ever seen on the sword, but that’s not true. When I took it out to play at Tristan Zukowski’s cutting seminar, Tristan had brought an Albion Crecy custom that had been sharpened by one of his NYHFA acquaintances. That sword redefined “sharp” longswords for me. I cut a tatami roll, propped on a stand without a spike, and didn’t knock the remainder off. Freaking lightsabre.

So let’s say that this longsword has a good edge. I could cut tatami with it just fine, and here’s Tristan cutting a double roll cleanly. Lukas mentioned that he’d taken it to at least one cutting party in Germany before it was mailed over, so there may well have been scope for further (re-)sharpening that I didn’t bother with.

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Fit and Finish

You can see the photos. The finish is immaculate. Everything seems to be fitted together perfectly, there’s no rattle or significant gaps anywhere. The fit of the blade through the crossguard is tight, and the hot peened block looks also great – fitted precisely to the pommel and polished until you can’t see any sign of hammering or the tang. The polish was mirror bright before I got my hands on it. Now there’s a few minor fingerprints and minor patina after the cutting, despite a wipe down and oiling. I’ll leave those to Lukas to polish away.

Dave Rawlings has claimed to find the leatherwork on the grip flawed, but I couldn’t see anything wrong whatsoever. Perhaps he has better eyesight than me.

There’s literally nothing I could praise more about the sword’s finish, given that it’s plain and undecorated. Which is a valid aesthetic choice, and one I’m entirely agreed with.

Conclusion

Lukas will be charging a fair amount for commissions – this would have been something in the range of EUR2,300 without the scabbard and he’s happy to admit it can go much higher. He’s also articulated exactly why that’s a valid price to pay for a handmade custom piece.

If you are shopping in that segment of the market, then this would be an excellent choice. One thing that I haven’t explicitly addressed in the body of this review is the “X-factor” which is all important to us sword-collectors and sword-aficionados. We all fundamentally like swords, and have left nose-prints on the glass in front of our favourite museum pieces.

This sword has that pull. It’s a personal thing, of course. So, personally, I think Lukas has made not just an exemplary example of an XVIIIa longsword with good handling, cutting performance and great production values. He’s made a sword that is harmonious to the eye. A sword that has lines like a sports car that suggest its purpose and performance even when still and resting. The subtle curve of the edge, the changing cross-section of the grip, the flaring crossguard and the minimal decoration of the pommel all combine effectively into a special piece.


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Ten Steps to HEMA Greatness

Wrestlers are insane. This is common knowledge. They are also brilliant, which is under-appreciated. Wrestling itself is under-appreciated. It’s perhaps the toughest sport there is, the purest sport there is, and there’s no professional league and big salaries to make it worthwhile; it’s done for the love of the sport. Wrestlers are mentally as well as physically tough. They have to be.

To help the coaches and wrestlers of America, USA wrestling came out with a lovely little guide – Ten Steps to Greatness. It’s almost repetitive in it’s simplicity. Here’s a version adjusted a little for HEMA practitioners.

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[Image from USA Wrestling]

1 Make the Commitment

“It’s easy to talk about it, but talk won’t put you at the top of the podium.”

You get out what you put in. If you want to be the best fencer you can be, you need to do more than talk about it. It’ll be hard, and it’ll be action. You’re going to do things. Imagine there’s a leaner, stronger version of you who’ll be attending the same tournaments and has been training for six months longer than you. If you can get more training in than your opponent, that’s already a step in the right direction. Don’t let your HEMA time be restricted to class time. Find a way to out train them. Out work them. Out think them. How much are you willing to give to get better?

If you decide HEMA isn’t worth your time, then that’s fine. Go live your life. Everyone else, read on. Continue reading


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Review: The Polish Saber by Richard Marsden

by Peter Smallridge

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Richard Marsden, former President Tyrant of the HEMA Alliance, founder of the Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship, etc., has a problem. Historical European Martial Arts is a hobby where we work to resurrect dead martial arts from the recorded systems. Many such systems have substantial details recorded, from the interrelated works of the Liechtenauer tradition over several centuries to the detailed textbooks of Italian rapier. Many HEMA-ists prefer to work from the most substantial sources, with the most information, but others prefer to work from more limited sources, preferring the harder challenge of interpreting unique systems with fewer details in the explanation. I.33, I’m looking at you here. Marsden has gone a step beyond merely working on a highly obscure manuscript, and tackled a historical martial art for which there is no treatise, namely Polish saber fencing during the 17th Century.

It’s understandable why he’d want to. Without regurgitating the whole history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 17th Century, they were Interesting Times. Invasions, civil wars, and a near-constant background level of lesser violence. The szabla came to full popularity, and the Polish style of saber-fencing was recognized as distinct. The szabla was the weapon of the Szlachta nobles, whose Sarmatism fashion not only acknowledged mythologized origins, but reflected the East-meets-West nature of Poland at the time.

I’ve always considered the Historical in HEMA to be defined as something similar to “this martial art not only existed in history, but is well enough documented that we have sufficient detail of the system to reconstruct it.” Others have previously attempted similar feats to Marsden, creating their own arts to fit historical but scantly-recorded martial arts such as Viking Combat. I’m not sure I could call it strictly HEMA. By Chidester’s typology, it’s a Type III – evidenced but not really detailed. On the other hand, the line between reconstruction and speculation is blurry. I’ve worked with the Basingstoke Bartitsu Irregulars (re)constructing boxing, ju-jitsu, cane etc. sub-systems for Bartitsu – where we don’t have substantial information on the full details of what the Bartitsu Club trained c.1900, but we have detailed manuals from similar times, and often with direct linkage to the club. Obviously, we feel these can justifiably be used to go beyond Barton-Wright’s own recorded techniques to flesh out a fuller system.

How much speculation is too much to be HEMA? Marsden has certainly had to speculate, in the absence of any surviving manual. His sources, though, seem fairly comprehensive, to my inexpert eye; there may well be sources out there that have yet to be touched by historians though (or at least English-language history) – perhaps in half a dozen years, some Polish equivalent of the Lost Second Book of Giganti will surface from an archive. Marsden first lays out the background of Polish 17th century saber and its historical and cultural context. Then he systematically lays out his evidence – here his academic background is clear. I’d read many of them before, both contemporary accounts like Jan Chryzostom Pasek’s memoirs and indirect but suggestive sources such as Starzewski’s 19th century writings on 17th century saber, and Meyer’s 16th century dussack chapter. The “closest” source may be from Henning’s 1658 work on “Cut-Fencing”, which is not only temporally correct but addresses the Polish style of saber fighting from the point of view of a German prospective opponent, albeit briefly. It’s good to see the relevant sections reproduced in full for convenient reference.

With the foundations justifying his interpretation laid out, approximately 120 of the book’s 240-odd pages are then devoted to interpretation. I’m not really fluent in saber, but it all seems sound enough. Certainly Marsden’s vision is interestingly distinct from the 19th century military styles I’ve seen elsewhere. The explanations are excellent; they’re clear and well-structured, with superb full-colour photography illustrating them. There’s also a refreshing honesty as Marsden confesses the speculative interpretation of many of the techniques and their support. He also gives a separate section for dussack techniques which may be applicable. The interpretation section is comprehensive enough to equip the reader to become a well-rounded szabla fencer, without wasting space giving repetitive exercises or variations of combination cuts.

Finally, the book is completed by appendices on equipment for practice, glossaries, acknowledgements, a bibliography and guide to further resources, and, helpfully for monolingual readers, a guide to pronouncing Polish terms.

This is HEMA with a slightly different sense of Historical to that which I’m used to insisting on. It’s moved beyond the recreation of one source system to establishing a system implied or at least supported by many sources. Marsden has gone from coloring inside the lines to drawing new line-work to fill gaps of a sketch. As mentioned, I’m generally hostile to too much guesswork in my HEMA. I accuse it of leading to half-arsed theories about how cross-guards protect the hand against punching shields rather than the opponent’s blade, the specialized role of claymores for breaking pike shafts or any number of glorious reenactor-isms, which don’t really hold up to common sense let alone have evidence to support them. This is different. Marsden supports his suppositions with sources and cites his conjectures with comparison. He has produced something which certainly goes beyond HEMA in the strictest sense, but perhaps it’s a transcendence rather than a transgression. In trying to provide a martial art that can be practiced, Marsden has produced a work of scholarship.

The survival or otherwise of historical source-material is undeniably a matter of history itself. The record left us by the past is fragmentary, and the process of selection has not always been arbitrary. But historians have always known this, and have always thought it important to situate the surviving fragments in a broader context created by other remaining fragments, thus gaining some sense of the whole even where significant parts of it are missing. […] The fragmentary nature of the traces left to us by the past is thus no reason for supposing that historians’ imagination is entirely unfettered when it comes to reconstructing it.

Richard J Evans, In Defence of History (1997) pp.88-9.