Let me begin by saying this review is totally biased. I had a vision of a thing I wanted, and thanks to the help and insight of others in the HEMA community, such a thing got made: the School Training Sword
I’ve been using and handing them out for about 8 months now, and it’s time to start talking about it.
I am, unabashedly, not a fan of synthetic longswords. We’ll skip the ‘why’ for now, but needless to say, I’ve always been a fan of wooden wasters - they are cheaper (which always helps, especially when you are just starting out and funding a new club or school), and while not good for sparring, they work well for drills and slow work. However, the main problem is that all wooden swords always felt like clubs. The movement was clunky and slow and just never felt ‘right’. I wanted something better but didn’t know what it was.
I had the privilege of meeting Russ Mitchell at November Steel in 2017. If you’ve not met Russ, you are missing out on a fantastic person. He has an uncanny knowledge of biomechanics and how the human body works and his ability to transfer that over to sports and other physical capabilities is incredible. Seriously, check out his book: Basic Body Mechanics For Martial Artists, it’s a bargain and the insight it starts to offer is invaluable. We still use the tricks he showed us at November Steel to identify and fix students’ problems.
Russ had taken one of the standard Purpleheart Armory wooden swords, and in retrospect, in what is an obvious solution, added a distal taper to it, amongst a few other things (note: a distal taper means the sword’s cross-section gets thinner along the length of the blade). It took a lot of the weight out of the front, moving the point of balance back to something manageable, and all of a sudden this “sword-shaped club” felt like a sword.
Then I started talking to Christian at Purpleheart Armory. And talking some more. And maybe it became more like bugging him. A lot. I wanted something that would feel like a sword and still be an accessible price point. I wanted something sword-like that I could hand out to new students, but not feel a sting if they never came back. He wanted something that would hold up to more than one hit so as to not ruin their reputation. In the end, we reached a compromise that I am very happy with, and thus the “School Training Longsword” was born - okay, maybe the name needs some work.
A few things about this that should be addressed about this wooden waster - and yes waster is accurate, because it isn’t permanent. Unlike their other wooden swords, this is not something that will last a lifetime, is it meant to be used, abused, and moved on - and for around $50, you can’t really complain. And really, if you’re getting to the point where this sword is breaking down, it’s time to invest in steel. Further, you shouldn’t spar with it, it’s not what the sword is designed for - and let’s face it, sparring with wood is terrifying at best, even with gear on.
What these are though, are very accessible sword trainers. Any new group knows that getting enough swords in hands is the biggest hurdle you can face - whether you supply them or have people get them, the cost is a huge obstacle for people starting HEMA. When you can buy one for $60, and 4 or more for only $50, you’re getting an amazing bargain. They have been fantastic, economic additions to my Beginner’s Course, and I have no problem with giving them out as part of the sign-on package (all engraved with the school logo). Each student now gets their own sword that they can take home and practice with, and we’re no longer playing the game of “who gets a steel sword” if another class is in session.
Here’s the takeaway: the School Training Sword fills a previously unfilled niche in the HEMA world. They won’t last a lifetime but are a great way for new students, and especially new clubs, to get their hands on swords. They’re rugged and durable and like all wooden swords, will work well for drilling cuts and bind work. They are not for sparring, and over time, high-intensity drills will likely lead to them failing. However, at less than half the price of the cheapest synthetic, and arguably, a better weight and balance, they are something that new HEMAists should definitely consider, especially if they are on a tight budget.