A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Hanwei / CAS Iberia Federschwert Training Sword
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
In practicing any form of weapon-based martial art, a student must naturally use some form of weapon simulator. The medieval and Renaissance martial artists who trained with the longsword sometimes used wooden swords (known as wasters) for their training, but it was not uncommon for them to also use blunted steel swords. Many of these swords still exist in museums and private collections. They also frequently appear in period fencing treatises from the 15th and 16th centuries. Such swords often had blades with narrow profiles, which was to compensate for the fact that the blades were created thick enough to have a safer edge. In this way the blades did not become too heavy. At the base of the blades there is a wider, wing-like ricasso (known as the schilt, or "shield"), which ensures that the tang is not too thin. It also provides a degree of hand protection for practicing certain techniques.
The term federschwert (German for "feather sword") is sometimes used to describe these training swords, though it should be noted that this is an incorrect term made up in the early 20th century. Period texts simply describe these as swords.
This model was created by CAS Iberia / Hanwei to meet the requests of modern practitioners of historical European swordsmanship. It was based on the dimensions of an original practice sword in Zurich, Germany. The goal was to have a sword that had a nice thick edge for safety, but was tapered enough to be flexible during a thrust. These are swords that are intended to be inexpensive tools for free fencing when combined with appropriate safety gear. At the time of this review, they retail for roughly $120 US.
For this review, two of these trainers were used over the period of two months for both free fencing and drills. When free fencing, they were used against padded gambesons, fencing masks, and plastic defenses such as elbow pads and hand protection.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by CAS Iberia / Hanwei of China.
The edges are nice and wide. The points are also quite round, and the edges even become wider within the last inch. The corners of the edges are not rounded though, so the user will need to file this down and round them out, or else will have to constantly sand burrs off after every use. When testing these swords, I originally left the edges alone for the sake of review. The corners became miniature saws within minutes. After taking a file to them, they were perfectly fine. In addition, the corners of the schilt were a little more pointed than necessary and do require some filing down to ensure that they remain safe in the event that two fencers end up too close. While these aspects would bother me on a more expensive sword, they are very easy things to fix, and at the price I can't really complain.
The hardness of these trainers is adequate. They worked fine against each other, but when paired against more expensive trainers the wear and tear was showing much faster. For the price, I couldn't complain about this, either. I had heard rumors of blade breakages with the original release of these swords. A CAS Iberia/Hanwei representative has said that a second round of these were created (which is what is being reviewed here) to hopefully fix this issue. So far these blades have held up to a good degree of usage without any signs of breakage.
The sword is remarkably flexible during the thrust... too flexible in fact. I very much appreciate that Hanwei attempted to make a sword that could thrust safely, but as it is, the sword wobbles around just from simple movement, and the flex is distributed over the entire blade, making even the "forte" of the sword wobbly to an extent. In fact, by "flicking" the sword, I could reach around someone's fencing mask and slap them on the back of the head if I tried. Furthermore, because the blades are so flexible, during free fencing they would whip around in the middle of cuts. Many of the winding actions within the German Liechtenauer tradition of fencing are somewhat affected by this when the blades of two swords meet in the bind. This is my only complaint with the product as it is. If the blade was significantly stiffer on the first two thirds, and then just as flexible on the last third, this would make all of the difference in the world. Perhaps this would increase the price, but honestly I don't think most practitioners would mind paying a little more for this type of improvement.
Fit and Finish
The hilt has remained very tight, though the ferrule by the guard of both of the review swords does have a little bit of movement. This movement was present when I received the swords, and has not gotten any worse in the time they've been used, so I do not believe it is an issue. There are no hard edges on the hilt, and the pommel is comfortable to hold.
Ultimately, I'm satisfied with these trainers from CAS Iberia / Hanwei. They are far from perfect, but they make a great introductory sword, and can also be used as inexpensive loaner swords for a school. Due to the extreme flexibility, the swords are not very good choices for standard drilling. On the other hand, they can work well to compliment a more realistic sword for drills, while using these safer trainers for bouts. Despite my complaints about the flexibility, these do seem to be one of the safer steel trainers out there for free play. Mostly, though, I'm glad to see a sword that is in a price range that is accessible to more people. I myself will not give up my more expensive trainers, and will continue to encourage people to pay for higher quality, but not everyone is able (or willing) to do so, and it is nice to have such an inexpensive option.
About the Author
Bill Grandy is an instructor of Historical European Swordsmanship and sport fencing at the Virginia Academy of Fencing. He has held a strong passion (obsession?) for swords and swordsmanship for as long as he can remember. He admits that this passion comes from a youth spent playing Dungeons and Dragons, but he'll only admit that if there are no girls around.
Photographer: Bill Grandy