ARMS & ARMOUR
An SSG History
Being born from the Company of Saint George (CSG), and with an armourer co-founder, the SSG has always strongly encouraged the use of medieval clothing, armour, and weapon simulators. Medieval gear is essential for creating the chivalric tone that makes a feat of arms work, because it creates a medieval stage upon which knightly deeds are expected. This is not quite the same as a modern sport.
The broad period of interest for the SSG is the whole of the Hundred Years' War, roughly from 1333 to 1415, but it also encompasses the rest of the fifteenth century--the Wars of the Roses period.
From the start, equipping combatants in armour was difficult. Leveraging decades of experience at trying to infuse a higher level of authenticity into the SCA community--with some success--the SSG co-founders set out to try an create a starting kit with equipment that would lower the bar to entry and yet would allow kinesthetic use of power.
These efforts resulted in the development of commercially-produced medieval-style shoes, arming coats (zuparelli; gambesons), poly swords and rubber spear tips still sold through www.revival.us. Central to this quest was for better head gear; preferably a bascinet of some kind and suitable gauntlets.
The Revival Martial Arts poly longsword, a light training simulator, answered many of these problems. Because of its light weight, a gambeson and reinforced fencing mask were sufficient, while the hands could be protected by lacrosse-type gloves. While the mask and gloves were far from ideal, the medieval shoes enabled more fidelity to Fiore's footwork, the grand-assietted gambeson protected and enabled full movement. Dr. Price's Revival Martial Arts spear tips remain useful today. We tried for many years to produce a Wisby-style, commercially manufactured gauntlet in Kevlar and other composite materials, but without success, and hoped for a Kevlar or equivalent bascinet.
Intermediate students were encouraged to build out their harnesses, and most elected to go with the bascinet and late fourteenth century kit that had been the mainstay within the Company of Saint George, but now fitted with a perforated visor. Dr. Price pioneered the first such interchangeable visor in 2004, which seemed an ideal solution (and it remains so today, for many SSG combatants). A full visor could then be worn in feats of arms; the grilled visor for behourd-style SCA combat, and the pierced one for SSG practice. The mail aventail, over a brigandine gorget, offered superior protection for the neck, throat and added defense of the shoulders.
For this level of fighting, with rebated steel weapons, protection for the hands was an acute problem. Appropriate 14th and early 15th century fingered gauntlets, while workable, didn't provide consistent enough protection. Therefore, following an idea by a pair of "hybrid" gauntlets made by Robert MacPherson, in 2010 Revival developed a production version of a hybrid mitten, but production problems were unresolved when Dr. Price deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. This is unfortunate, because the "road testing" done in DFW with the prototypes was promising. Today, hybrid gauntlets are available from many armourers from Ukraine, produced as a consequence of the rise of a new sport, the Battle of Nations / Armoured Combat League. Efforts to produce a Kevlar Wisby gauntlet were abandoned due to the complexities of manufacturing, though original prototypes sent to the manufacturers showed promise.
Intermediate students were encouraged to obtain a rebated steel simulator. Those made by Arms & Armor of Minnestota were (and for Dr. Price, still are), seemed the best choice, featuring a distill tapered blade.
Within the growing HEMA community after 2010, great changes came to the market. The young HEMA community eschewed medieval clothing and armour, developing new sport gear based on reinforced fencing gear. Today, in 2018, plastic finger and clamshell gauntlets, the latter influenced by Kendo gear, are dominant in that community. New, composite materials and greater access to Chinese factories has resulted in an explosion of sport gear, including inexpensive reinforced masks, padded fencing jackets, leggings, and plastic armour for the protection of joints. Interestingly, much of this development paralleled early SCA efforts to fashion fencing equipment into armour for behourd-style rattan combat (in the late 1960s and 70s).
Rebated steel swords are dominant in the HEMA community. This is the greatest contribution to the authenticity of training, because now there are excellent swords by a number of makers, such as Regnyri, that provide variety, though the costs remain in the $400+ range. The combination of steel swords and padded armour does, however, mean that HEMA practitioners must pull their blows to avoid harm to their opponent.
Another welcome development is the line of Rawlings swords. Like the Revival poly sword trainer, this one is "soft" and may be used to deliver powered blows. However, being somewhat heavier than the Revival, the use of Lacrosse or similar gloves is not quite enough to protect the hands, suggesting the use of more expensive gauntlets. Most in HEMA go for the clamshell-style plastic defenses. The Rawlings trainers, being easily available and hard to break, while more expensive than the Revival polys, have become a favorite of many SSG and other groups.
In general, the HEMA community spends more on swords than their protective gear, while feats of arms SSG approach reverse this; combatants spend more on their protective armour and practice / compete more often with synthetics, both so that the kinesthetics of the blow can be "finished" and so as to reduce the damage to the expensive armoured kit.
In recent years, the proliferation and popularity of HEMA-style events on the East coast and in Europe has put pressure on the group's uniform interest in the medieval-style feat of arms as the main competitive framework. Because of this, many groups in the South have gone in a new direction, investing in HEMA-style kit and rebated swords authorized on the HEMA circuit.
In the "Western" SSG, having less of the new HEMA community influence, and being closer to SCA, ACL and the Tournament Company groups, the original path remains popular. Taking advantage of some of the developments, new students often acquire a gambeson, reinforced HEMA mask, and some kind of Lacrosse gloves, and use a Revival poly or Rawlings for most practice and for many tournaments.
Advanced students still build out their kits towards 14th - 15th century standards, though with minor concessions, such as pierced occularia (eyeslots) to add an extra level of protection. Indeed, there has been something of a push-back on the sport-HEMA approach, with a resultant desire to re-emphasize the CSG's more elaborate feats of arms and the chivalric culture that allows SSG combatants to fight with near-full power.
Some groups do both; SSG Atlanta and SSG DFW are both at the crossroads for both cultures.
The availability of such helmets and gauntlets has been much eased by the rise of Ukraine as the reproduction/sport armour capitol of the world. Now, combatants can much more easily acquire armour, custom tailored fighting coats; helmets can be ordered fully padded with stuffed linen, with riveted mail or stainless aventails, fully strapped and ready. The rise of the BOTN/ACL has drive this welcome development, since that culture uses team-identifying livery over 14th-15th century armour, but using rebated weapons fully powered by complete body turns (and considerable tackling).
SSG combatants tailor their intermediate equipment for the tournament styles and community they want to fight in. Each SSG group sets their own preferences for how novices and intermediates should arm and equip themselves. Perhaps someday we'll get that inexpensive kevlar bascinet, but for now, there are interesting choices!
Just a few resource links here:
Andrew McKenzie, SSG Honolulu
"Overcoming Barriers to Fighting in Armour"
Brian R. Price, SSG Honolulu
"Armourers of Ukraine and the SSG: A Guide to Armour and buying armour from Ukraine/Russia.", 2018 ed.