When purchasing new HEMA (Historical European martial arts) protective gear there is usually a breaking in period the equipment must go through in order for you to have the most flexibility and maneuverability with it, as is the case with many other kinds of sporting equipment. This article will serve as a guide to provide some general advice on how to speed up this breaking in period with HEMA gear.
Breaking in HEMA SPES Heavy Gloves and other Sparring Gloves
SPES Heavy Gloves and other synthetic leather mittens have many design and material similarities to synthetic baseball gloves, and the synthetic leather needs to be broken in. It can be achieved with the same methods used for breaking in baseball gloves, such as constantly opening and closing the mitten or washing the palm area in warm soapy water as you would with baseball gloves. This trick may not work on other HEMA sparring gloves made from other materials though and persist usage may be the only thing that breaks them in.
As a side note unless your glove is made from actual leather you probably should not use baseball glove conditioning oils in an attempt to soften it, as this will instead damage many types of synthetic leathers, making them less effective at gripping your sword handle.
Breaking in HEMA Jackets and Pants
Jackets and pants are some of the primary pieces of HEMA gear people need advice breaking in when first starting out in HEMA. When purchased brand new HEMA jackets and pants can be very stiff, and require a breaking in period in order to be able to move less restricted in them.
Brand new HEMA fencing jackets can be slept in over-night, and this can often help break them in. But some models such as that produced by SPES and Red Dragon can even be tossed into an electric washing machine on tumble settings for several loads and then allowed to air dry. You should not dry your jacket in an electric clothes drying machine as this can potentially melt parts of the fabric. However keep in mind submerging a HEMA fencing jacket in warm water with laundry detergent can potentially damage the soft part of the Velcro, making it less able to hold so if your jacket relies heavily on Velcro instead of zippers you probably should not do this. Do not wash the jackets with fabric softener as it will ruin the Velcro.
Keep in mind some brands of new HEMA fencing jackets should only be hand washed; always check the labels from the manufacturer for cleaning instructions.
This advice also applies to HEMA fencing pants, too.
Still Having Issues? Ensure Your Gear is the Correct Size
Sometimes the problem people experience with gear is not that it needs a breaking in but rather that it is too big or too small. Sleeve cuffs that are too long for your arms will make it difficult to wear gloves, and jackets that are too tight will make it restrictive when trying to raise your arms above your head for high sword guard positions.
When purchasing HEMA fencing jackets and pants it can be desirable to have them tailored to your measurements, which you will need to take yourself and then send to the manufacturer of the equipment. This custom order can take longer to get the gear than usual but is often worth the extra time and cost.
You can also take any off the shelf HEMA fencing jacket to a local tailor or seamstress for sewing alterations, and this is something many people do with off the shelf fencing jackets and pants. The main thing to be aware is that you should inform the tailor that the jacket has been puncture rated and so they will need to use strong needles to thread the alterations they make. Most shops will be able to do this for you even if they don’t expressly have experience with HEMA equipment.
As for HEMA sparring gloves sometimes the issue is that the gloves are too big for your hands, and a smaller size would be easier for you to wear. If you find that you are really fighting to close your hand against the glove, it’s probably because it is too big.
If you’d like to learn more information about historical fencing practices please check out our Learn HEMA page for a guide to learning about the historical weapon that interests you. You can also find more guides we’ve written about other topics at our Helpful Guides page.