Since Polaris Fellowship of Weapons Study was founded in 2008, the question that we have often been asked “Why do you use padded training weapons?”
HEMA schools in Michigan train with various types of weapons including blunted steel, wooden wasters, and various plastic wasters. However, it is fairly uncommon to find martial arts that study European sword fighting who use padded weapons.
Padding – you’ve got to have it somewhere
If you’re learning a weapons based martial art that involves sparring, you need some kind of modification from the real weapon in order to keep the practitioners safe. These modifications can come in the form of pulling your shots – changing the power of the shots, to not make full contact – or blunting the weapons. Even of the schools that study primarily with steel weapons, the vast majority of them are blunted.
A few schools do spar with sharp blades without armoring. This is an excellent way to steadily decrease the size of your school due to injury. It’s not safe. There is no way to practice real techniques with sharp weapons that does not lead to real injuries. Most schools that use blunted weapons wear padding, armoring their bodies. Martial arts schools vary on how much armor they wear. Frequently they will wear padding to cover arms, legs & torso, fencing shields, and gloves.
Any modification to the weapon for the safety of the students changes the way that the weapons interact. This removes the drill and sparring that the students practice from what a real sword fight would be. This is something that is frustrating to martial artists. Though we want to be able to closely emulate the reality of sharp blades, this is the sacrifice we have to make in order to not maim each other. Learning safely allows us to continue studying and sparring with each other.
Polaris’ Padded Training Weapons
Polaris Fellowship has chosen to pad the sparring weapons instead of wearing padding. We require safety glasses for sparring and drill at Polaris. Though students sometimes choose to wear additional equipment, we do not require our students to wear padded equipment when sparring with our padded training weapons.
Our padded weapons consist of pvc core, and padding. Upon description, our padded swords are sometimes compared to boffer weapons by people who haven’t used them. Though there are similarities to some boffer weapons, we build our padded swords to focus on replicating real swords. Our padded weapons are aerodynamic and weighted to be similar to historical weapons.
Using padded weapons that we have constructed is cheaper than equipment used at other schools. Blunted steel weapons and body armor can be expensive. Making our own padded weapons costs about $20 per sword. This drastically lowers the cost barrier of entry to new students who are joining our school.
Padded Training Weapons & Replicating Sharp Steel
One criticism of our weapons is that they don’t interact with each other the way that the wooden wasters or steel blunts do. This is true, the tape on the outside of the weapons tends to have more friction and be a bit “stickier” than the steel blunt and the wooden wasters.
Interestingly, steel blunts don’t always interact with each other the way that sharp swords do. Roland Warzecha has an interesting video in which he discusses the difference between sharp and blunt training weapons. He mentions specifically that the sharp blades sometimes stick where the blunt weapons would slide. Though the “stickiness” of the padded training weapons isn’t identical to that of the sharp weapons, it’s an interesting consideration that we have spent time exploring at class.
Various Training Tools
At Polaris Fellowship we also train with wooden wasters and steel blunts in drill and sparring. Polaris trains with sharp steel for test cutting. We focus our steel drills to expand our knowledge beyond the limitations of the padded weapons that we use for our sparring. We also experiment to make sure the techniques we are using are realistic to the weapons that we’ve replicated.
Polaris uses padded weapons for sparring to balance safety with minimal worn protection. Wearing minimal protection on the body allows us to move unencumbered. Students also call the hits that they take during sparring. Not wearing padding increases their ability to feel where they’ve been hit and respond accordingly.
We acknowledge the limitations of our padded weapons – just as any other martial arts training weapon has it’s limitations compared to the original weapons.
To reduce the effects of the limitations, we expand our field of study with a variety of tools. We also study with blunted weapons, wooden wasters, and sharp blades within various drills at our school.