While sparring, many people wear lighter gloves on their buckler hands because of the natural protection the buckler provides. For me, I prefer to wear rapier gloves while sparring because it adds hard protection over the knuckles while also providing padding over the fingers and forearms.
However, there are situations while sparring that can put your fingers at risk. Today we will be discussing my personal injury I suffered on my buckler hand. Hopefully through discussion, others can avoid injuries as we all work towards making historical fencing a safer activity.
Warning, this post will contain injury images and videos that may not be suitable for all viewers.
While sparring sword and buckler, my opponent delivered a high cut while I retreated. I extended my buckler up to defend while backing away. This is a technique that is common in sword and buckler sparring and is an advised technique in a number of systems such as Lignitzer and Kal. Furthermore, this is a technique that I have safely executed hundreds of times while sparring.
Unfortunately, my opponent’s sword struck the middle of the interior top portion of my thumb instead of my buckler.
At first, the injury did not seem too serious. I had full range of motion in my thumb and I could make a fist without any sharp pain. I iced my thumb at practice to try and reduce the swelling and expected to have a bad bruise the next day.
The following day when the swelling had reduced, I noticed more localized bruising. My thumb was cold to the touch and I could not move the top part of my thumb without discomfort.
Urgent care diagnosed me with a broken thumb. After a follow on appointment with an orthopedic, it was determined that I had suffered an avulsion fracture in the top bone of my thumb.
Minimum Weeks of Recovery: 6
Method of Treatment: Temporarily placed in a splint until a custom fitted brace is available to immobilize the thumb. No surgery required.
Given that the impact hit the interior top portion of my hand, adding finger caps to my gloves seems like a reasonable upgrade to add more safety. However, rapier gloves may be insufficient when sparring with broader bladed swords like medieval arming swords.
Medium level protective gloves like Lacrosse/Hockey gloves with hard plastic or Red Dragon Sparring Gloves with added finger caps would add more protection for my off hand. While the Red Dragon Sparring Gloves seem over-protective for synthetic sparring, and under-protective for steel sparring, they may be the right level of protection when paired with a buckler.
This level of protective gloves do not work with all bucklers when trying to perform I.33 techniques. The solution to this is to use bucklers with wider handles to allow for the gloves to fit while still having the dexterity to move the buckler from side to side to defend.
While gear is the primary way to spar safely, good technique is also critical in ensuring safety.
After further inspection of the video, this high buckler defense I performed was not the same as ones I had done before. My arm was not fully extended to provide the maximum cone of protection. My hand also appeared to open slightly which made the buckler angle more towards the left side creating a bigger gap on my right side.
It appears that my buckler not being at the right place at the right time was one of the major issues that resulted in this injury. When defending with the buckler, many images in manuscripts clearly show the buckler fully extended away from the body to maximize defense.
From a I.33 perspective, the protections may also be key. The protections allow the fencer to safely defend against attacks while keeping the sword and buckler hands together. This would have allowed for my heavier, more protective, glove on my sword hand to also cover the buckler hand. It also would allow for the sword to provide active defense as opposed to just relying on the buckler for protection.
Injuries happen in martial arts. We try to avoid them as much as possible. Unfortunately, it is not an “if they happen” but a “when they happen”.
Do not take safety for granted when participating in historical fencing. Even when using a round steel dish to protect a hand, one poorly executed technique can sideline you from activity for weeks.
Learn from yours and others injuries and let’s continue to promote safe sparring in the HEMA community.