If you are a tweaker like me, your gear is something you’ll never stop modifying! This is one of the ways you can keep yourself safe during a tournament, because having gear that fits and moves with your body type is only going to benefit your art.
Here are a few tips to consider as you start to modify and build your own gear.
1. Be Fearless
Be fearless in your concept and your willingness to think outside of the gear available to us.
While the martial art is ancient, the revitalization and sport aspect of HEMA is relatively new. There is some really amazing gear available for us through places like Purpleheart Armoury and SPES, but even the most thought-out gloves might not suit your needs. It's your body and you know how it moves. You know how stuff should fit and you know where it hurts when you get hit.
2. Test, Test, Test
Make no mistake. There are going to be bugs! You want to make sure the modification can stand up to the rigors of sparring. You want to make sure it keeps you safe. You want to make sure you can move in it, see in it, put it on without a team of squires, and--also very important--you want to make sure it can't injure you or anyone else!
Push your gear to its limit, because the worst time to discover something doesn’t work is in a high-stress situation like a tournament.
3. Buy Manilla Folders
Wait. What? That's right. Those three tab folders you can buy in packs of a hundred at Staples.
These are going to be your templates. Anything you're going to make you’re going to cut out a template before you go hacking into your own gear or the material you're going to use for the plates etc.
You're also going to run in the projects that are slightly repetitive, so having a template that's already prepared will save you a lot of time.. This also helps when you're have projects that involve different sizes.
4. Stay Organized
Get yourself some inexpensive tool boxes.
You're going to have a rivets--put those with the rivet gun. Your grommets and you're grommet set--put those together. This sounds simple enough, but most people don't do it. Wouldn't you rather be creating awesomeness than trying to find the tools necessary to create said awesomeness?
Remember those manilla folders? These are also going to help you keep organized. Every time you make a template, use one of these folders. Mark the folder with the date and the particular project that you are working on and put it into an old file cabinet.
5. Make a To-Go Kit
Your to-go kit is something you are going to take with you when you go to the club to spar, or when you're heading out on the road for an adventure. The last thing you want to do is travel 3000 miles to a tournament with your completely custom fight rig and watch it disintegrate on you with no possible way of putting it back together!
That, and if you're the only guy there that can fix everyone else's s***, you'll become very popular very quickly. Just ask Charles "Witchdoctor" Murdock who he seeks out in a crowd when his gear goes awry.
The to-go kit doesn't have to be every tool you own. What's it going to take to put you back together so you can keep fighting? That’s what needs to go into your to-go kit. I especially recommend packing hockey tape.
7. Recycle and Re-Use
Look at your surroundings to see what's available to you.
I'm not telling you to get yourself on the show "Hoarders,” but you're going to be making a bunch of cool stuff and this stuff has to be able to be attached to your body. Attaching things to your body involves lacing, straps, velcro, padding etc.
So, the next time you're getting ready to clean out the closet and you realize, "I don't wear this belt anymore," guess what? You now have a buckle and some pretty good leather strappy stuff.
Do this with other things. That old suitcase you're getting rid of? I guarantee it has some kind of a cool hook or snap or elastic thingy in there that you can use. Make yourself a nice stockpile of what you believe will be pieces you'll eventually use. You’ll save yourself a small fortune!
Now, obviously if you're going to be mass producing something for your club members you'll want to go ahead and find a reliable, sustainable source for material. But prototyping, hell! Whatever gets it done. You can make it pretty for mass production later on.
Look forward to detailed tutorials and further discussion on modifying HEMA gear on my YouTube channel, where I will be starting a Destroyer Modz vlog. I’ll be adding a more detailed depiction of what my modifying process is and the tools entailed within, soon.
Also check out the 82nd Mod Helmet Modification on Kickstarter. This modification, which I designed and have built myself, transforms your plain old fencing helmet into a fully functioning, head-turning HEMA helmet.
And finally, in closing: it's your gear, you bought it, do whatever you want to it! And most importantly... Fearlessly have fun while doing it.
Josh Parise is a co-instructor at the Broken Plow Western Martial Arts school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Josh is also the owned of Destroyer Modz, a company that creates Historical fencing products to be functional, comfortable and appealing to the eye. Destroyer Modz specializes in creating modifications people can do in their own home.