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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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Destroyer Mod Head Protection: Indestructable

by Jayson Barrons

Once you install it, you won’t take it off.

Side view of the 82nd mod with the clavicle protection removed.

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.

Review Approach

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).

Installation

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.

Additional kydex helped reinforce the BOH screw so it didn't rip through.

Construction

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.

Performance

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 BOH protector is insanely protective, although can sometimes make it challenging to put the mask on.

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.

The profile of the mod is sleek, especially without the clavicle protection.

Customer Experience

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.

Conclusion

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.


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Comfort Fencing Gloves: A Review

HEMA deserves better
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Comfort Fencing gloves after two months of use and slight modification

As modern practitioners of an ancient deadly art, we are constantly confronted with a paradox; how do we perform armorless combat as it was meant to, while not wearing armor? How do we keep us and our partners safe, while still executing techniques with the proper sense of vigor?

Out of all the gear that a historical fencer uses, nothing has fallen short as much as our gloves. This is tragic, as hand dexterity is one of the most critical aspects of being able to properly perform the graceful techniques that the masters ask of us.There are, of course, hundreds of attempts to address this issue. Some work better than others, some are still pipe dreams, and more still just fall short.

But ever since a couple of U.S. fencers began wearing a certain gauntlet with modern aesthetics, fencers have been clamoring for a pair of comfort fencing gloves. The thumb dexterity! The wrist maneuverability! The protection! The $200 USD price tag! Could these gloves be what we were looking for?

Short answer – no. Longer answer – did you even read the short answer? It was no.

Review Approach

To conduct a thorough review, comfort fencing was unaware that we were looking to test the gloves. This avoided any “review” products or special treatment. The gloves were used for 3 months in heavy sparring and one tournament.

Design

The Good

The gloves in full
The gloves were designed with a leather under glove (the sort used for gardening) with batting glued to the fingers. The under glove was used as a chassis, having the actual “armor” literally strapped to the under glove.

Finger plates are attached to woven straps, which are then attached to the back of the hand protector. In a stroke of genius, the back of the hand is hinged, along it to cover most of the first section of the fingers while maintaining dexterity when closing the hand.

The wrist is equally as clever – the back of the hand is concave, with the wrist being convex. While this is hardly perfect, it offers great protection, while still allowing the fencer to bend and twist his wrist freely.

The Bad

All is not perfect, however.

While the back of the hand wraps around the sides to offer protection, the pinky and index fingers are naked on the sides.

The finger scales are intended to protect the tips by extending slightly over the end, but it’s hardly protective. In order to feel comfortable wearing the gloves, I had to install SPES finger tip protectors on the pinky and index.

The finger scales protruding outward rather than inward is borderline dangerous, and confers no real safety or dexterity benefits. In fact, if struck at just the right angle, they act as a chisel; once I had a finger plate on my pinky struck, and a full chunk of meat removed from my finger (yes, even through the protective batting and leather under glove). This would not have happened if the scales were reversed ( plenty of gauntlets from older days have the scales in this fashion, truth be told).

Additionally, the way that the protection is attached to the under glove is curious at best, lazy at worst. Straps are used on the fingers to keep them in place, but they are extremely loose (apparently CF recommends sewing the straps tighter, but this bit of information was never communicated to me). The straps are constantly getting tangled in the plates, and if you’re not careful you can find yourself sparring with an extra loose finger because the strap unwrapped from the finger.

To add insult to injury, the back of the hand is held in place by two non-adjustable woven straps with velcro. One of these straps is directly across the first knuckle on the palm…right where you hold a longsword. It adds unnecessary bulk, is uncomfortable, and comes loose often.

(Dear equipment makers: can we stop using velcro?)

Construction

It was hard to produce a list of pros and cons for the construction, given that the construction is so positively awful. One might attempt to argue that I simply got a bad set of gloves, but upon speaking to a number of people who received gloves at the same time as me, it seems to be simply a case of lazy construction.

Multiple people have had finger scales simply fall off (one person actually had two scales fall off the very first time he sparred in the gloves). The scales are attached via rivets, but they easily slip through the woven strap. I myself had had the thumb plate slip out from its strap, and only with major surgery can I repair it.

The tips of the fingers are attached to the under glove with cheap, red thread, the sort that you might attach a button to a shirt with. You are almost assured that this will fall apart, and it comes nowhere close to handling the rigors of sparring.

The finger tip threading is not sufficient.
The fingertip threading is insufficient
The under glove is cheap, the sort of $2 pair you might buy at home depot. They’re so flimsy they make taking the glove on and off incredibly difficult. In places where the protection was attached, I noticed some tearing. It became such a concern that I had to replace the entire under glove on my right hand with something new. Even the $5 pair I purchased was leagues better than what was used.
The replaced underglove
The underglove and padding needed to be completely replaced on the right hand.
Admittedly, their quality control simply seems nonexistant, as there are high quality gloves out in the wild. Anecdotally they appear to be owned by people with higher visibility in the community, but I do know of a number of people who have had no problems with their gloves.

Performance

As with almost all five-fingered gloves, being able to hold your sword in a proper grip is difficult to let go once you have it. Clamshells tend to make a hammer grip more comfortable, whereas the comfort fencers have no such problem.

While the gauntlets are noticeably heavier than the SPES or sparringgloves.com protection, they don’t seem to impede hand speed much.

Finger dexterity is excellent, and the ability to change to a thumb grip without making it obvious to your opponent is addicting.

The wrist’s design also makes short edge cuts and high guards much easier to use compared to sparring gloves, and they don’t add unnecessary bulk that can make crossed arm actions difficult to execute.

Customer Experience

Sadly, the customer experience is so poor, that no amount of quality control or fencing performance can overcome it.

Comfort Fencing has a long history of hilariously long delays (some people have told me they were waiting a year or more), empty promises, and wrong deliveries. The internet is riddled with these stories.

Supposedly the gloves are custom made for each owner, but it appears that they may simply be made in bulk – despite myself and other people having different sized hands, we all could not tell the difference between our gloves when they were delivered.

I confronted the owner before purchasing about his delays, and he assured me on multiple occasions that all of his problems were solved. They would surely arrive on time, he said. He’s far more transparent about delays, he reiterated.

My gloves arrived two months late, after repeated delays. They also arrived 1 month earlier than a pair purchased someone I knew who ordered them seven months before I did.

Multiple times I was told they were shipped, and when I questioned where the tracking # was, I was simply told they were shipping the next week. Never once was it acknowledged that his previous declarations bore out to be untrue.

On top of all of this, the feder I purchased alongside the gloves, and was told would ship with them, arrived one month later. Despite ordering it custom, I simply got a stock feder, and was told by the owner the important point was that someone else got the feder I ordered.

…I never heard back from him.

Conclusion

Dreams and wishful thinking can be powerful agents on your brain.

Two more experienced people told me to avoid the gloves, and I did not listen. People thinking of purchasing them today say they heard the same declarations of improvements by the owner, and had the same high hopes things had changed.

Personally, I do not want my gear to protect me from every bruise and scrape. I am willing to sacrifice small levels of safety from the edge cases of sparring, in order to practice my art as best as I can.

But gear has to be reliable. What we do is a serious, violent endeavor, and it has to take repeated abuse. It cannot fail at the worse time. Almost as important, gear cannot protect you if it’s sitting on a bench in Poland not being made.

There is hope on the horizon. Pro gauntlet is supposedly a still a thing that will one day be made, and the new St Mark Koning gauntlets not only seem incredible, but made by people with actual reputations at stake.

But today? HEMA deserves better.


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Review of the New Leon Paul HEMA Mask

by Peter Smallridge

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Leon Paul have a new HEMA mask in prototype production, and we tested it. Not scientifically, because we lack the qualifications, the patience, or the equipment. But with our own skulls inside, in the fires of the European federschwert tournament scene. In the best tradition of Hunter S. Thompson and Gonzo journalism, we took a bunch of drugs with a Samoan attorney threw ourselves into the task wholeheartedly. Three hard fought tournaments, three consecutive weekends, three countries. How did it fare? Is the world of HEMA forever changed? Or is it just another mask, with “HEMA” written on the side?

For any readers living shipwrecked on the rocky shores of Tierra del Fuego, the London-based Leon Paul are a big name in (Olympic) fencing. They’re the preferred suppliers of USFA, Fédération Française d’Escrime (FFE), Australian Fencing Federation, British Fencing and Real Federacion Espanola de Esgrima, and more to the point they equipped James Bond. They’ve recently branched out into actively marketing HEMA gear, rather than merely deigning to let HEMAists purchase their sport fencing ranges. This has included all-new “Titan” jackets and other kit, developed in co-operation with the leading HEMA-specific supplier of such things, SPES. The masks on offer, though, have not been HEMA-customized, being their existing X-Change Coaching Mask (in black, of course).

Now, that’s changing. Except for the defunct That Guy’s masks, no-one has ever made a mask specifically for modern HEMA before, as far as we know. Jacek Bujko, of Leon Paul Poland, has produced a mask based off the existing X-Change masks, but with:

  • Mesh wire 10% thicker
  • Unpainted on the outside
  • Steel rims both front and back
  • New prototype HEMA bib (thicker, longer)
  • Contour Plus strap (absolutely no chance of tearing the mask off the head in combat)

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