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Thread: Knightshop Rawlings Synthetic Sparring Range - Review

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    Knightshop Rawlings Synthetic Sparring Range - Review

    By Michael Thomas and Nick Thomas, Academy of Historical fencing, Pre-production models, March 2010.

    YouTube Drilling & Sparring footage

    We tested the previous iterations of the Rawlings line of synthetic swords at both Fightcamp 2009 and later in the year at the Wallace Collection in London. Each version has improved right through to the last model that we tested out this weekend. It is important to understand what these weapons are and what they are designed to be used for before we get on to the details. The number one consideration for us in the AHF and I think for most of the groups involved in providing input is for the safest weapon possible, primarily for sparring but also for drilling. This new line of swords is therefore supposed to do something new and not simply replace steel swords. If you are looking to replace a £350 Albion Meyer with a £40 synthetic and expect it to be identical you are going to be disappointed. If you want steel, use it, plain and simple.


    Before we go any further, it will be helpful to explain who we are ands what we do to give you a fair idea of where our opinions are coming from. The AHF has three schools in the South West of England and South Wales. We are an all steel group and train and spar with a variety of weapons including longsword, sword & buckler, messer, 19th century sabre, rapier, sidesword and others. We have approx 100 members of different levels. We took one member with us to the Knight shop and he competed in the tournament and won the contest. We are big fans of steel but as our technique and intensity increases we would definitely like the option of a safer, realistic alternative to metal. Our experienced fencers will still use steel but if the synthetics do the job they will become the new entry level weapon.



    Tinker and Albion Leichtenaur compared to Rawlings synthetic line

    Testing at the Knightshop
    Over this last weekend we extensively tested both the pre-production singlehanders and also the longswords. We used them for drilling and heavy, full contact sparring. The long and short of it is that we really like the single handers and they are pretty much good to go. The longswords are not quite there yet, but still pretty damned close. Both swords are built in the same manner with the plastic blade and tang as one piece with a metal rod fitted in the core. The plastic crossguard and grip slide down over the rod and the pommel is screwed on tightly to hold it together. The swords look professional and the fit is tight and feels sturdy. The current pommels are a lantern or wheel pommel and they are interchangeable. This is very handy as I hate wheel pommels on longswords but like them on single handers!


    Hilts of both synthetics compared to the Tinker steel swords

    The Swords
    The swords compare very favourably with the Albion and Tinker line of swords with respect to their dimensions. Examine the photographs for a direct comparison with the Tinker single hander and longsword as well as an Albion Leichtenaur. The single hander is light in the hand but is balanced well and both cuts and thrusts well. The thrust on both swords is ultra safe. These weapons have a lot in common with a rapier blade in this respect. The only negative is that the current longsword is a little too flexible and this can cause problems with winding and deflection. Cutting is good and the strike is not too hard on the body. The longswords have a tendency to spring off a blade if you parry with the weak. The blades will fail to return true if you apply constant pressure for a time (say 10 seconds or more) but will easily bend back. This is comparable to our steel Austrian sabres.

    Sparring
    The single handers are excellent for sparring. We used them with steel bucklers and also with plastic rotellas. They handle like a lighter Tinker single hander and cut, thrust and parry nicely. In terms of impact, the thrusts hardly hurt at all, the cuts are pretty similar to shinai impacts. One thing to consider is that we are a steel group and are therefore equipped to deal with impacts from steel swords. For those shinai clubs out there you will need to up your kit or else suffer some bruises or possibly even breaks. People are of course training in t-shirts with these swords, just be sensible and use appropriate armour, especially on the hands. In terms of damage, the swords stood up fine and suffered nothing other than minor scrapes and nicks, much less than I have seen on steel swords of the last few years. The crossguards split on the longswords but this is aknown problem and being fixed.

    The impressive safety flex of the synthetics. The first image shows both the single hander and longsword. The second is a comparison of the flex between the synthetic and an Albion Leichtenaur, the third is a comparison of the flex between the synthetic and a Tinker longsword. The flex shown is with the same amount of pressure on each sword.

    The longswords suffer at the moment in sparring. They are underweight and this means single handed techniques become easy and a little too frequent. The tip is too flexible (more than the single handers) and they therefore suffer in winding, thrusting and some displacing. There isn’t enough mass in the tip right now so they feel more like shinai. The impacts are light however and do not hit anywhere like steel. The size and handling are good and they seem pretty sturdy right now.

    Drilling
    The single handers worked fine for a large sword and buckler session. They obviously hurt far less in the cut and almost nothing in the thrust making advanced techniques safe and fast. The Longsword again hit problem here due to the lightness and also the excessive flex in the tip. The proposed changes should fix these issues.

    Revisions
    Based upon the feedback received at the event the Knightshop are looking at making a few minor modifications that should help create a really useful and affordable training tool. As we understand it, the rod will be extended further down the blade as well as increasing in thickness from 8mm to 12mm, slight upping the weight and also increasing the rigidity. Also, the tip profile will be expanded on the longsword so that it follows the characteristics of the single handers. This should help fix the problems in the winding and displacement. Also, the cross guards have a flaw in them that makes them easy to break, this should be fixed also.

    Conclusion
    Bryan, Dave Rawlings, The Knight shop and all those involved in the swords production have taken a big chance on this product and are doing a really great job in producing a product that we can use for HEMA. The production quality is very professional and they are taking all comments and suggestions with regards to producing a top product. They are of course limited by the materials that can be used as well as the requirements we are all placing on them. Yes, the swords are lighter than an equivalent steel but as Bryan said, if you want a 1.2 kg synthetic it is going to hit like a heavy steel sword. What is the point when we have loads of options at this weight?

    In our opinions these swords are safer than steel, handle well, are fun and very cheap. Use them for full on sparring or for new to intermediate practitioners and we are sure you’ll love them. If you want a full weight replacement for steel but in plastic then you might want to wait.

    Big thumbs up from the AHF!
    Last edited by M. Thomas; 03-03-2010 at 04:34 AM.
    Michael G. Thomas - Instructor, Writer
    Academy of Historical Fencing
    www.historicalfencing.co.uk

    My Author Page at Amazon

  2. #2
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    Michael,

    Thanks for posting this review and video. It is good to see them actually in action. My first thought from watching the video was that the longsword seems to flex too much on impact, almost wrapping around. From your review though it seems that it is one of the areas of improvement?

    Cheers,
    Dan.
    Context is everything

  3. #3
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    Yes, these pre-production models are too whippy and do indeed suffer from this problem. I understand the changes being made to the final designs should get around this.
    Michael G. Thomas - Instructor, Writer
    Academy of Historical Fencing
    www.historicalfencing.co.uk

    My Author Page at Amazon

  4. #4
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    Cool, I had worries of people deliberately striking with the flat to whip the point in, a la sport foil.

    But that sorted they look like they will be great and from the video a but more stiffness won't hurt them.

    Looking forward to these...
    Context is everything

  5. #5
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    Indeed, the concensus of the weekend of using them was that the single hander was spot on, whilst the longsword needed to be proportinately the same, as the weak is thinner width and depth wise at the moment, which is why they flex even more than the single handers if you see the flex test.

    I know the plan is to put the stiffer core in as well as add some mass to the weak, adding more blade mass and presence, as well as reducing the flexibility slightly, bringing it in line with the single hander, which will be great. Me, Mike, Dave Rawlings and Matt Easton were all in concensus of these matters regarding the single hander being great and longsword needing to be tweaked, which was good news.
    Last edited by Nick Thomas; 03-03-2010 at 07:20 AM.
    Nick Thomas - Instructor
    Academy of Historical Fencing
    www.historicalfencing.co.uk

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Dan Sellars View Post
    Cool, I had worries of people deliberately striking with the flat to whip the point in, a la sport foil.
    Shouldn't that problem be settled at the judging level, just like 'normal' hits with flat? I'm pretty sure there are already simulators that can be used to flick around like that (isn't it mentioned in Meyer, by the way?).

    Regards,

  7. #7
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    yeah they are mostly looking good. It seems to have been a long journey following the development of them but they do look like they are nearly there.
    Context is everything

  8. #8
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    Another point that Bryan from the Knightshop said is that they can alter the plastic mix to a certain extent, even for individual schools when placing orders. Check with him on that but I think it gives people a bit more flexibility if they need it.
    Michael G. Thomas - Instructor, Writer
    Academy of Historical Fencing
    www.historicalfencing.co.uk

    My Author Page at Amazon

  9. #9
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    Thanks for posting that Michael and Nick.
    Yes I pretty much agree with all your comments. The only thing I'll add after a session of sparring with the single-handers last night is that people who are used to using weighted shinai or suchlike will almost certainly find that they need to upgrade some of their protective equipment with these - especially gloves, forearm guards and I would say that padded instructor jackets will probably become standard.

    I noted that my students all remarked on how light they felt when picking them up (they are, for safety reasons), but in use, because of the way they have been balanced, they move in a very similar way to a light steel sword, such as a sharp Albion. In fact they utilise a similar principle in the distribution of weight as a weighted shinai or a feder-sword.

    Regards,
    Matt

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dan Sellars View Post
    yeah they are mostly looking good. It seems to have been a long journey following the development of them but they do look like they are nearly there.

    It has been a very long journey, and I want to thank Bryan for how patient he's been, not only with the product (please bear in mind he's having to send the mould away to get the improvements we want implimented), but with myself and the rest of the community, his motto has been "I want it right" and he has stuck by that no matter how stressful.

    Singles spot on, longswords, so close to being right

    another thing about the consensus, is that this was wide ranging, not just from Matt, Mike, Nick and myself, but also from all bar 2 of the open tournament fighters, and participants in the weekend's training.

    We could not have asked for a better feedback session
    LONDON LONGSWORD ACADEMY
    For practice is better than art,
    hit him
    your exercise does well without the art,
    keep hitting,
    but the art is not much good without the exercise
    do not miss.


    author of the DVDs:
    Obsesseo
    Lutegerus Sword and buckler(I.33) "Intention".
    & Lutegerus Sword and buckler(I.33)Part II "Timing and Distance".

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Easton View Post
    Thanks for posting that Michael and Nick.
    Yes I pretty much agree with all your comments. The only thing I'll add after a session of sparring with the single-handers last night is that people who are used to using weighted shinai or suchlike will almost certainly find that they need to upgrade some of their protective equipment with these - especially gloves, forearm guards and I would say that padded instructor jackets will probably become standard.
    Regards,
    Matt
    Yep, if you have been using kit like shinai you will definitely need to up the protective kit. The hands are definitely number one as gloves suitable for shinai are definitely not suitable for synthetics (for sparring). Luckily the kit should take much less wear than against metal.
    Michael G. Thomas - Instructor, Writer
    Academy of Historical Fencing
    www.historicalfencing.co.uk

    My Author Page at Amazon

  12. What would you suggest for hand protection?

    How would these holdup to repeated hits on say the metal edge of a steel gauntlet?

    Of course the replaceable blades help that issue out a lot, but for curioities sake.

  13. #13
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    Well, we've only been using them for one weekend event plus a training session on monday so I can only speak of what we have seen. We've been using the single handers against steel bucklers and they are holding up fine.

    With respect to gloves, we use the Brine Supercross gloves for both synthetics and steel sparring. I'm sure you can manage with a lesser glove but you'll need to experiment.



    One last thing on gloves. You can buy packs of field hockey finger tip protectors. They are like small, hard rubber thimbles and fit neatly inside gloves. They are designed to stop finger breaks and work really well.
    Last edited by M. Thomas; 03-03-2010 at 09:54 AM.
    Michael G. Thomas - Instructor, Writer
    Academy of Historical Fencing
    www.historicalfencing.co.uk

    My Author Page at Amazon

  14. Yeah I know these are initial impressions.
    I use the Brines also, just wasn't certain what you meant with regards to shinai users. I always use at least thye Brines with shinai also as I have seen more than one broken finger from them.

    Thanks for the great review!

  15. #15
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    Hi Lee,

    What we meant with regards to gloves was that most shinai users use lightly padded gloves, such as Warrior Tempo 2 gloves or similar, which will likely not be good enough for serious contact.

    The Supercrosse gloves are excellent for the job, but like with steel, we find the rubber tip protectors in thumbs and little fingers have saved us from a number of serious strikes, as no glove yet properly protects the finger tips.

    Many people have been using ice hockey gloves also, which provide enough protection, but not enough mobility. It is unfortunate that the Supercrosse gloves have been discontinued, we are still looking for a good replacement, as our stocks are all bought and in use now.

    On the subject of steel guantlets, well we used steel bucklers, so I would imagine they would be fine, but it would be a real shame to have such a well developed modern standardised product and then have to use metal guantlets.
    Nick Thomas - Instructor
    Academy of Historical Fencing
    www.historicalfencing.co.uk

  16. May I have permission to repost this elsewhere unedited with full credit?

  17. #17
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    Of course, go ahead.
    Michael G. Thomas - Instructor, Writer
    Academy of Historical Fencing
    www.historicalfencing.co.uk

    My Author Page at Amazon

  18. #18
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    Just had our second club session using this range last night. It simply confirmed exactly what we had found previously, the single handers are great, the longswords lack enough blade mass/pressence, which also makes them a little whippy, when made proportionately the same as the single handers they should be just as good.

    I have to say its been lovely doing some really good high contact sword and buckler sparring without risk of nasty injury. Even at high contact levels in the kit we are wearing seen in this thread, we are recieving nothing than a sting as they hit, with the odd bruising.
    Nick Thomas - Instructor
    Academy of Historical Fencing
    www.historicalfencing.co.uk

  19. #19
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    As Nick said, after our second training session with the synthetics I am very pleased with the single handers. With the slight changes that are being made the final product will hopefully be really good. The longsword is definitely not ready yet (as mentioned earlier, this is not news) and additional sparring has confirmed to me the lack of heft to the blade and also excess flex from the middle right down to the tip.

    I actually found last night that I was able to thrust full power to my opponents chest and then deliver to cuts, both to the head and withdrawl without my opponent noticing they had been hit. They were of course wearing body armour but it does go to show the difference in the materials.
    Michael G. Thomas - Instructor, Writer
    Academy of Historical Fencing
    www.historicalfencing.co.uk

    My Author Page at Amazon

  20. #20
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    What are the dimensions on the tip and edge?

    In short I want to determine if an escrima or SCA helmet will work with these.

    If so that would be awesome. Escrima masks are used by one group near me and are more durable, padded and full head protection than fencing masks. And if SCA helmets work then the number of makers and designs of steel helmet go up enormously.

    I'm also really psyched about these.

    Cheers,
    Steven
    Athena School of Arms - Longsword & Highland Broadsword
    Fight with All Your Strength
    Swords of Chivalry - Youth Swordsmanship in Acton, MA

  21. #21
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    I am pretty sure they wouldn't work, the tip is 20mm x 7mm, edge is 6mm.

    Nick
    Nick Thomas - Instructor
    Academy of Historical Fencing
    www.historicalfencing.co.uk

  22. #22
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    The profile is pretty close to a steel blunt so a definite no go for non-fencing masks.
    Michael G. Thomas - Instructor, Writer
    Academy of Historical Fencing
    www.historicalfencing.co.uk

    My Author Page at Amazon

  23. #23
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    Hi, if they are barred masks as opposed to mesh please don't, these work very well with high standard fencing masks with the tip giving enough to take the bang from the blow, the profile however is too thin for bar or grill masks.

    Having recieved two very deep hard thrusts(oeeer) to the abdomen on Tuesday wearing a tshirt, I can second how forgiving they are, it was two days before it started to hurt
    coaching jackets are highly recomended
    LONDON LONGSWORD ACADEMY
    For practice is better than art,
    hit him
    your exercise does well without the art,
    keep hitting,
    but the art is not much good without the exercise
    do not miss.


    author of the DVDs:
    Obsesseo
    Lutegerus Sword and buckler(I.33) "Intention".
    & Lutegerus Sword and buckler(I.33)Part II "Timing and Distance".

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nick Thomas View Post
    I am pretty sure they wouldn't work, the tip is 20mm x 7mm, edge is 6mm.

    Nick
    Thanks for the info.

    Cheers,
    Steven
    Athena School of Arms - Longsword & Highland Broadsword
    Fight with All Your Strength
    Swords of Chivalry - Youth Swordsmanship in Acton, MA

  25. #25
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    Review Update 9th March 2010:

    After using the synthetics for three sessions I thought I'd give you a little update. Please note that these comments are for the single handers only, the longswords are not advanced enough yet to be used effectively. We of course anticipate the production longswords to be excellent!

    The singlehanders are providing lots of fun with regards to both drilling and sparring. They are fast but not too fast, they hit but again, not too hard. We use PBT coaching jackets and these are padded enough for us to feel the hits but not feel them too much. This of course varies for all groups and fencers, some people just get hit more than others!

    We use steel bucklers and I thought you might like to know how the blades are holding up to them. The good news is so far we have no damage or breaks to report. Saying that though, the edges do takes dents and scrapes. How this will affect them longterm, who knows, it is pretty light though, I've actually seen certain steel blunts suffer worse for the amount of use we've given them.
    Michael G. Thomas - Instructor, Writer
    Academy of Historical Fencing
    www.historicalfencing.co.uk

    My Author Page at Amazon

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