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Safety in Swordfighting

Swordfighting is safe.

Even though this is a weapons based martial art and we use steel as well as synthetic weapons, the number of injuries sustained is minimal.  In tournaments it is rare to see injuries and the injuries that do happen almost always occur because the practitioners use inadequate or faulty equipment.   Compare this to the sorts of injuries sustained in hockey, football, soccer, other martial arts including those that use "no contact" free sparring and HEMA swordfighting compares favorably.

Swordfighting includes these activities:  

  • Recurring regularly scheduled practices which only need to be posted once until the schedule changes.
  • Workshops and other public events must also be sponsored by Swordfighters.
  • Tournaments orchestrated by others that we attend.

Each regular practice can involve:

  • Paired and solo drills

  • All forms of sparring.

In addition,  even though demonstrations, introductory instruction, and marketing are not considered practice, we want to follow these safety standards when we engage in them.


The bystander's safety is also important

  • A reasonable amount of space between those engaged in an activity and those who are spectators, where if participants briefly leave the fencing space they do not put bystanders at risk

We have a first aid kit

  • A first aid kit is required at all Swordfighters practices.  This is to include bandages and antiseptic for mild scrapes and cuts and as well as basic and standard first aid gear to manage limb or head injury. It isusually being carried by the instructor.  Crossfit Vernon, where we practice also has a first aid kit of their own and an AED (automated external defibrillator) on the wall.  Just in case!

Everyone has to understand practice conventions prior to engaging in an activity

  • For example, anyone can yell to halt any action for safety reasons. “Hold!” or “Halt!” or  "STOP STOP STOP" are examples.
  • Everyone who participates needs to fill out a waiver.  If you have not filled out a waiver you cannot practice.  No exceptions!

The level of intensity and the weapon type determines gear safety requirements. 

We tend to practice at three levels of intensity in Swordfighters. 


We use the first level of intensity when we are learning or practicing techniques with or without partners.  Solo drills can be done at speed and with power and are still considered to be light intnesity for the purposes of identifying what protection level is required.  Paired practices are either choreographed (two people working out a designated technique together) or sparring at a very low speed and power levels.  By definition,  this level of intensity will allow you to stop any movement easily without hitting your partner.  

After learning movements we will begin to test them using moderate to fast speed but with only a bit more power.  At this medium level of intensity, light contact is allowed to armored targets only, that is, you are only allowed to hit your opponent where they are wearing armor. 

Any full speed attack with moderate to heavy contact is considered to be high intensity.  We can practice drills, designated sparring or earnest sparring with full speed attacks.  This high intensity practice and  is the third level of intensity.

Armor requirements for each intensity level are below.  It is certainly acceptable to wear higher levels of protection than these minimal requirements.

1. Light Intensity Practices:  No gear is required

  • No contact or very mild contact only and the level of contact is designated

  • slow to moderate speed 

  • Any weapon type is allowed

Examples include:

  • Solo drills at any speed and power level  

  • All Paired drills that do not involve contact

  • Technique choreography

  • Slow motion to very mild freeplay sparring with low speed and power levels.

2. Medium Intensity Practices: masks, medium protection gloves or better, neck protection if thrusting is allowed , elbows, and personal protection (cups, breast protectors) are required

  • moderate to fast speed

  • light contact

  • Armored targets only

  • Any weapon type is allowed

Examples include:

Choreographed paired drills with light contact

All other paired drills with light contact 

Light one attack sparring 

Light freeplay sparring 

Light  Free One Attack

3. High Intensity Practices: Full Kit

  • Moderate to heavy contact

  • Full speed attacks

  • Armored targets only

  • If synthetic weapon trainers are used then medium weight gloves are sufficient otherwise heavy gloves are required

  • Wooden swords are not acceptable for high intensity sparring

  • Moderate contact only for staff weapons  (gauging the force of the strike is required)

Examples include:

Earnest sparring (refering to intense sparring  as opposed to drilling or light to moderate sparring.  Earnest sparring can occur in regular practices, during workshops, tournaments, and exchange practices with other groups)  

One Attack 

Three Attack 

Free One Attack

Long Distance One Attack

Free Sparring

Specific notes and exceptions:

Thrusting above light intensity levels always requires neck protection; contact thrusting to the body and limbs requires a jacket.

Steel weapons, wooden  staff weapons, spears and other hard hitting weapons done at the high intensity level always  require maximum protection. 

Lightweight gloves  suitable for light practice and drills to prevent abrasion  include leather fencing gloves, motocross gloves, leather motorcycle gloves. Lightweight gloves are optional.


Examples of Medium weight gloves suitable for medium intensity sparring and high intensity sparring with synthetic weapons trainers are Red Dragon HEMA gloves,  Lacrosse gloves, ond Some hockey gloves (some hockey gloves are too bulky)

Heavy gloves suitable for high intensity sparring include:  St. Mark’s, Ensifer Sparring Gloves, Neyman Fencing, Destroyer Modz  H.O.G.,  or SPES Heavies

When sparring in earnest, gear requirements will vary according to the type of weapon trainer used.

For example:​​

  • Steel weapons always require heavy gloves

  • Single sticks, wooden quarterstaves, and spears with synthetic heads.  Wood used in trainers must be hardwood and not susceptible to excessive splintering if they are to be used in earnest sparring.  For example, a staff trainer made of oak or hickory is acceptable for sparring. A trainer made of hemlock or pine is not.

  • Double handed wooden staff trainers require the use of heavy gloves in earnest sparring.  Wooden single sticks have a basket hilt. They do not require the use of heavy gloves.

  • Medium gloves may be used with weapons that also protect the hand with either a complex hilt, with the use of a buckler (shield) or when using synthetic weapons. This can be assessed on a hand by hand basis ie a fighter uses a Heavy glove for the right hand arming sword, but a medium glove for the buckler.

  • Complex hilted weapons have separate hand protection requirements

Full Kit suitable for Earnest Sparring:


The entire head and front of the throat must be covered with a HEMA specific mask or the equivalent. Specifically , the mask  must be sturdy enough to withstand the expected impacts that you might receive.  Masks with severe dents or spaces  that might allow a thrust through are not allowed.  Examples of suitable masks:  AF fencing masks, Leon Paul, Destroyer ModZ, any HEMA specific mask

Back of the head protection is required, and must be stiff enough to withstand a full strike from a steel trainer. No major gaps are allowed.

Throat: A hardened covering to protect the throat. The gorget must be sufficient to stop a full longsword thrust to the throat, and at minimum must do so on the front of the neck.

A tip catcher is a piece of material that prevents a sword tip from riding up into the face. This is strongly recommended, either in the jacket or in the gorget, but not required.


You will need a HEMA specific jacket or the equivalent.  Specifically the jackets aare thick and made of puncture resistant material.  No gaps or openings like grommets should be present on combat facing surfaces such as the armpits or chest (they are ok on the back).  Jackets should be comparable in protection to the following example jackets: SPES, Neyman, Gajardoni


An internal or external cup for male fencers. External cups must fit close to the body.   Personal groin protection for women is optional at this time


Heavy HEMA specific gloves or the equivalent must be used to protect the hands and wrists. These gloves typically protect the sides and tips of the fingers and are sufficient to resist hard strikes from steel weapons.  Some examples of acceptable heavy gloves:  St. Mark’s, Ensifer Sparring Gloves, Neyman Fencing, Destroyer Modz  H.O.G.,  or SPES Heavies

Elbows and Arms 

Elbow pads should be made of leather, plastic or stiff, closed cell foam.  Protection should cover the sides of the elbows.  Small statured women in particular should wear arm guards any time they are sparring in earnest.  Look for guards similar to SPES elbow and arm protectors or  Neyman proectors.   

Knees and Shins

Knee and shin guards may be integrated or separate.  Use Plastic, leather, or stiff closed cell foam guards. Shin guards ought to wrap around the sides of the leg and include ankle protection. Knee guards should cover the sides of the knees as well. 

KneePro Ultra Flex knee pads are very popular, soccer shin guards, integrated motocross knees and shins are examples of adequate protection.

Covered skin

When sparring in earnest bare skin is kept to a minimum​

Example: A small gap between a sock and knickers is fine, but exposed calves are not.

Example: An untucked shirt that is pulling up due to a high guard causing a small amount of skin to show is ok.

Feet - shoes/foot coverings must be worn during tournaments.

Exceptions - single stick, dagger trainers do not need all skin covered even when sparring in earnest

Other notes of importance:

Gear parity with training partners

Sometimes your training partner for whatever reason may not have gear that is appropriate for the intensity level of the practice.   They and their training partner must downgrade the intensity level to match the level of gear being used. For example, if a person is outfitted to spar in earnest with a steel sword and their partner is using a synthetic sword wearing only a mask and medium gloves, then they must both use synthetic swords to match the gear level of the partner, find gear for the partner, or decrease the intensity level of the practice (ex. using slow motion sparring or a paired and choreographed drill instead).

Gauging the force used in sparring

Gauging is a way of ensuring that participants "know their own strength" when sparring.  To gauge your blows, you and your partner test the force of their strikes against one another.  Beginning with very light hits, the receiver indicates whether the hit was "too light" "too heavy" or "just right".  In sparring we find that the hits will be approximately 20% harder than what you gauge so its wise to underestimate the force of the blow that you are willing to take.  Gauging eventually creates a high degree of self control and sensitivity for how hard you are actually hitting.


Weapons Trainers must be in good shape

The trainer must be free of splinters, burrs, or sharp edges

  • The tip must not come to a point.

  • Tape or a rubber blunt may be required for tips that are not flattened, spatulated or swelled enough and are below 9 mm in width particularly if blades that are excessively stiff.

  • Edges must be blunt or blunted, including the weapon hilt  and the schilt. Sharp edges or points should be filed down.

  • Trainers must not be excessively heavy.  Excessively heavy is defined as over the weight of the weapons that these trainers were designed to emulate.


Modified or homemade gear is acceptable, as long as the gear is safe and protective.

The instructor or external tournament organizers have full discretion to disallow any glove they deem as unsafe. For example, steel gauntlets may not be safe for other participants or they might need additional interior padding.  A mechanic’s-style glove has minimal padding and when used inside a metal gauntlet, and thus would not be sufficient.

Examples of the application of our safety policy

When steel or synthetic single handed swords are used in earnest sparring

Single handed swords includes all trainer wielded with only one hand such as arming and bastard swords, sword and buckler, and sword and shield.


Gear requirements for earnest sparring apply with the following modifications:

  • Hands: If the weapon does not provide sufficient hand protection (such as a complex or cupped hilt), then the lead hand has the same safety requirements as  when using a steel or synthetic longsword. If the weapon provides said protection (ex. Complex hilt) then the hand only needs to be covered by a standard light glove.

  • The offhand must either be ‘tucked’ behind the back, protected by a buckler or shield, otherwise placed away from the action, or  be covered with a medium/heavy glove

When spears or quarterstaves  are used in earnest sparring

All long hafted weapons are capable of generating a surprising amount of force quite unintentionally.  It is possible to practice at all levels of intensity with these weapons. Even at light intensity with partners it is wise to wear medium or heavy gloves and a mask.


All minimum protective gear requirements for earnest sparring apply with the following modifications:

  • Head:  it is highly recommended that internal  and/or external padding be used to augment standard “3 weapon masks”

  • Heavy or medium weight gloves are required


When wooden single-stick trainers are used

All minimum protective gear requirements for earnest sparring apply with the following modifications:

  • Hands: If the weapon does not provide sufficient hand protection (such as a complex or cupped hilt), then the lead hand has the same safety requirements as synthetic / wood / rattan. If the weapon  provides said protection (ex. Complex hilt) then the hand only needs to be covered by a standard light glove.

  • The offhand must either be ‘tucked’ behind the back, placed away from the action, or covered with a protective glove

  • Torso/legs: Single stick is the only weapon where bare skin is allowed, although it is recommended to still have all skin covered. All other rules surrounding torso/legs still apply.

When rapiers and other thrusting weapons are used

All minimum protective gear requirements for earnest sparring apply with the following modifications:


(For rapier, court-sword, small sword, spadroon, dagger and other primarily thrusting, metal trainers)

  • Weapon Hand: Same as other single hand trainers.

  • Off-hand for R&D: left to individual tournaments to define.

  • Torso: Torso and arms (including armpits) should be completely covered, with a jacket made of a puncture-resistant material, at least of a 350N rating similar to what has been previously described.  Shark maille or butcher’s maille is also acceptable so long as it covers the entire torso and arms (including armpits), leaving no skin exposed.


Wrestling safety

Wrestling requires a minimum of protective gear:

  • A mouthguard to protect the teeth is recommended, but not required.

  • Cups are optional.

  • Ear guards are highly recommended but not required.

  • The wrestling substrate is the main gear safety consideration.  Entry practices, pummelling and other forms of standing grappling can be done on any surface.  Takedowns, throws and ground work require a clean safe surface such as a judo, wrestling matt, or a natural surface such as an athletic field.  Standing takedowns require a soft surface to practice on as well.

  • When takedowns and throws are allowed, all participants must:

    • Be responsibile for the safe return of anyone that they pick up off of the mat.​

    • Be able to perform all appropriate breakfalls for the level and intensity of the matching.

Standing Takedowns in sword fighting

Grappling is understood to be a part of the historical fencing arts. Sometimes in earnest sparring or in tournaments grappling is allowed in the context of a sword match.  Reasonable precautions should be made to insure that dangerous grappling techniques are managed, or or disallowed if they cannot be made safe.

  • Grappling at the sword means grabbing the sword of the opponent to stifle it, perform a lock, or disarm and is always allowed.

  • Standing takedowns or throws in the context of a sword sparring session  require a safe surface:

    • Sprung floors, wrestling mats, basketball/wood courts, carpeted conference floors, synthetic and organic turf, and fencing pistes are examples of safe flooring.

    • Bare cement, asphalt, and other extremely hard surfaces are not acceptable.

Cutting Activities

Cutting inanimate objects with a sharp sword is occasionally a part of swordfighters training (think of an oriental swordsman cutting through rice matts). Extreme awareness for bystanders and participants is mandatory, with a large area cleared for the one performing the cutting or those drilling with sharp weapons.


  • Cutting is a solo-activity. Two or more people with sharp weapons do not practice in the same area at the same time.

  • Drills or solo-competition with sharps will be done with plenty of room between participants.

  • Practice or cutting areas should only allow enough people that the space permits within them. This means that an instructor who is not cutting should also have enough space.

Gear Checks

Periodic gear checks are necessary

Inspect protective gear for tears, fraying, dents, punctures and cleanliness.  Check training weapons for splits, burrs, and splinters. Build a practice of conscious use among participants.  Do this by inspecting gear:

  • Instructors should inspect gear before and after each program semester
  • Instructors should inspect class gear incidentally, prior to and during each class session

  • Students should personally inspect their gear before and after each use


If gear is damaged it must be repaired to provide the same level of protection as an undamaged version of the gear would have provided and this must be done prior to use.


  • Damage that is not material to the protective role of gear is not bound by this rule
  • Gear damaged during an activity should be reviewed by the leader to determine if it can be repaired temporarily (tape being acceptable in this case), or if the gear should be disallowed going forward.

Forbidden Activities

During Swordfighters activities, the following practices are not allowed.


  • Sparring or paired drilling with sharp weapons.

  • Earnest sparring without proper head protection.

  • Sparring without hand protection appropriate to the intensity level.

For activities not listed in this document, ask the instructor for direction regarding equipment.

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