Here at Arms and Armor we've been making swords for a long time. Although we officially incorporated in 1982, our product mix and our focus have shifted over the years. We originally started out making sharp weapons that we sold primarily at Renaissance Festivals, then through our famous catalogue. By the late 1990's we were on the internet and our close friendship with folks like Ewart Oakeshott and David Edge (former curator at the Wallace Collection) helped us to reach a worldwide customer base. Right after the millennium there was growing demand for historically accurate training weapons, which prompted the development of our training line, which now includes all manner of blunt, historically accurate, training swords and feders.
We recently had one of our very first steel longsword trainers come in for a spit and polish and a new grip cover. The sword has had near-daily use from an instructor and has held up very well. With so much use it comes with the usual age spots in the form of a bit of corrosion and numerous small divots and nicks. After 15 years it continues to be a reliable and sturdy training weapon and we were pretty happy to see this old warrior.
This got me thinking about the first steel trainers we made and the early days in the WMA/HEMA community. Our trainers were a direct growth out of our training in historical martial arts, stage combat and what would eventually become WMA/HEMA environment that exists today. Back in the 1990's rebated longswords were the most common tool used in our practice and events. They were used for stage combat which made them a natural starting place for folks interested in historical combat. These swords were great for fühlen and had realistic dynamics, but using historical combat systems made the blades wear out pretty quickly. At the time wooden trainers started to be used and were quickly adopted by almost everyone in the fledgling community as synthetics had not yet appeared. The wooden trainers worked pretty well, but were a bit stiff in the thrust :-) and we missed the fühlen of the steel.
So, we turned to history for an answer. Based on surviving historical trainers we had handled in collections and those illustrated in the manuals we were able to craft our first steel trainers. We made these in the last years of the 1990's to use for our own training. Starting in 2000 we had some for sale but the community was primarily using wood in almost all training, the steel trainers were used by just a few. We think that these were the first commercially available feders for modern HEMA/WMA practice. Then we got an order for ten trainers from the Higgins Armoury Fight Group in early 2002 and things changed. Their use in fully armored combat illustrated the safety of historically based steel trainers. This was very influential in allowing the market for steel feders to develop!
We sold several more quickly after that, including the one pictured here.
The Fechterspiel model with the stepped schilt was introduced in 2005 and I think Bill Grandy got the first one, as he helped critique the prototypes. This had the waisted grip, stepped schilt, and was made a bit lighter, with more flex for improved performance in “blossfechten”.
We have revised a few things about the design over the years with the advise from many leaders of HEMA/WMA community. Recently we've seen that the practitioners in our community are looking for different characteristics than they were in the past. With the rise of tournaments and the increasing need for protective equipment folks have needed longer grips, different grip covering materials, and more complex guard options to protect their hands.
In the last 6 to 8 years we have been offering modifications on a custom basis for our steel trainers. We've decided to offer these customizations as standard fare. You can now add custom pommels, grip lengths/coverings, and rings on the cross, all as part of the new improved online ordering process. Of course, we are still happy to work with you on any completely custom feder you can dream up. On our website we have incorporated some of these into the options on our trainers. You can check them out here Fechterspiel or Fechtbuch
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985