One of the most important considerations when starting any new athletic hobby or sport is the costs of entry; that is, the minimum cost of equipment and other goods needed to participate in that sport. Historical European martial arts / HEMA is the same in this regard, since much like its counterpart Modern Olympic style Fencing (MOF) the sport requires specialized fencing equipment.
If you are looking for information regarding how expensive it costs to get into HEMA as a sport or hobby, this article should provide that information for you. This article has information regarding how expensive it costs to get into HEMA as a beginner, with bare minimum costs as a new student.
Class Tuition Costs for Beginners in HEMA Can Vary Depending on the Club You Join
The most important aspect of how much it costs to get into HEMA is what club you are joining, if any. Clubs which have been around for some time usually have an inventory of loaner gear such as practice swords, fencing masks and other protective armour that can be loaned to beginner students. Without this loaner equipment it can be difficult to get new students, so clubs tend to make investments into having some of this gear available for students.
So if you are able to study at a local club that has loaner gear available, the financial cost of getting into HEMA can be as low as simply having the money to pay for monthly tuition. Tuition varies according to the club and area, but generally are in line with the costs of studying at any martial art school. In the United States for example prices can vary from $40 USD to $200 USD, depending on the costs of the club operating. To illustrate the differences that training in a certain part of the USA makes, The Sword Class NYC school based in Manhattan district of New York City charges $165 per month for unlimited classes while The Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship based in Phoenix, Arizona charges $50 a month. The cost disparity is in the differences of the value of real estate between these areas, which impacts the costs of leasing space for the club to operate in. This variance in tuition price based on the different costs of operating a club applies to all regions of the world, not just the United States. But generally you can expect to pay what is similar to what you’d pay for other kinds of martial arts school tuition in your local area.
Even as a beginner, you’ll still want to own some decent clothing, such as athletic shoes and either protection for your groin (if male) or your breasts (if female). While plastic chest protectors can be available at a HEMA school for loaning, groin protection usually is not provided so men should make an investment into a decent jockstrap. We provide some recommendations of good ones in our Long Sword Starter Gear Guide.
How Expensive is it to Buy HEMA Equipment if my Local Club Doesn’t Have Loaner Gear for New Students?
Newer clubs may not have adequate loaner gear available for all students, which can limit their growth but more importantly, will limit your ability to participate in classes. This means you’ll need to make an investment into your own equipment to be able to participate.
The type of equipment you will need at bare minimum as a beginner for these clubs is a practice sword, a fencing mask and a gorget for neck protection, in addition to groin protection (if male) and chest protection (if female).
As the costs will vary based on whether your club is using synthetic or steel practice swords, let’s first discuss the costs of chest and groin protection.
For Men: The protective cup we recommend is Shock Doctor Shockskin Impact Jockstrap, or a similar type of model. This will be the most comfortable design that will stay in place easily for you during multiple lunges with your sword. It retails for around 60$ to $80 USD depending on the size. While this may sound expensive, it’ll be more expensive for you if you damage your testicles by taking a glancing sword thrust to them.
For women: Women’s Plastic Fencing Chest Protector retails for around $50 USD.
The next item you will need is a good fencing mask. An affordable 350N rated fencing mask for HEMA usage is produced by Red Dragon and can be obtained for $150 USD. You’ll also want the $60 USD protective hood that provides additional protection to the back of your head, a place other fencing masks normally do not have protection for. Lastly you will want neck protection in the form of a gorget, which costs usually around $25 USD.
You don’t absolutely need to have hand protection as a beginner when simply doing paired drills with a sword, as you should not be practicing with the intensity that would lead to uncontrolled motions or damage to the hands. You will however take strikes to the face, as many strikes are aimed at the head in these sword drill plays.
So the bare minimum costs for having the protective gear you need as a beginner in HEMA is around $300.
Next let’s talk about weapons, as if a club does not have a loaner practice sword for you then you will need to obtain one.
As mentioned previously, the type of practice depends on what your local club is using. It’s always best to ask whether they are using synthetic or steel practice swords, as you cannot use one type with a different type, since steel will destroy synthetic weapons. Another factor to consider is if they are using synthetic swords then what type of material; nylon or polypropylene. If they are using polypropylene such as a Red Dragon branded synthetic sword, you can’t use them against the nylon blades made by a company such as Purple Heart Armory as the nylon blades are more stiff.
A Red Dragon polypropylene synthetic sword costs around $70 USD or so.
A nylon synthetic sword produced by Purple Heart Armory costs around $100 USD.
If the club you wish to practice at is using steel federschwert practice swords then the cost increases to somewhere between $200 USD and $300 USD, depending on the manufacturer you select.
For more specific information on the types of federschwert steel practice swords we recommend for HEMA usage, please read our article, The Best Federschwert Practice Longswords for HEMA.
The Final Cost of Purchasing HEMA Equipment as an Entry Level Beginner
Taking all of the information we have discussed so far together and summarizing it, we get the following cost breakdown.
- Protective equipment: Around $300 USD
- Practice Weapon: $100 (synthetic) / $200-300 USD (steel)
So about $400 USD to get the minimum amount of equipment for synthetic sword practices, and around $500 to $600 USD for steel sword practices.
As mentioned before, this number is considering the costs for a beginning student who is joining a club that does not have loaner equipment available.
While these costs may seem high, they are comparable to expenses for purchasing equipment for Kendo where a uniform and bogu armour will cost around $400 USD. Shinai, the practice sword used in Kendo can be had for as low as $40 but these shinai don’t endure heavy usage; competition grade shinai are made from carbon fibre and can cost $200-300 USD. Likewise, having gear for competition in Modern Olympic-style fencing will run somewhere from $400 to $600 USD.
This cost breakdown for HEMA equipment to gear a single person can also be useful for new clubs seeking to budget for how much they need to invest into equipment for beginning students they wish to provide loaner gear for. Even if you don’t purchase jockstraps for male students, you probably should invest into chest protectors for female students as this is a piece of equipment that can be used by both male and female students. The most expensive part of the equipment for beginning students is the fencing masks and their protective overlays.
As for costs of practice weapons, synthetics can be 1/3 the price of steel practice weapons, although steel weapons are more desirable as they better simulate real swords and it can be more difficult to execute some techniques with synthetics as compared to steel swords.
For more information on equipment for beginners as well as more complete lists of all types of equipment a student may need to purchase over the course of their training (but do not necessarily need as a beginner), you can read the following articles,
- Longsword Starter Guide
- Historical Rapier Fencing Starter Gear Guide
- The Best Federschwert Practice Longswords for HEMA
- List of Recommended HEMA Tournament Grade Equipment
- How to Properly Clean and Care for your HEMA Protective Equipment
- How to Clean Your Swords and Federschwert in HEMA (plus storage and transport advice)
- How to Break in Brand New HEMA Gear
These articles provide further information and context for historical European martial arts (HEMA) training in regards to the usage of protective equipment and practice swords.
We hope this guide helps you start your journey into learning historical sword fighting.
If you’d like to learn more information about historical fencing practices please check out our Learn HEMA page for a guide to learning about the historical weapon that interests you. You can also find more guides we’ve written about other topics at our Helpful Guides page. You can also join the conversation at our forums or our Facebook Group community.