I am thinking of starting practicing HEMA (historical European martial arts), and so I am about to buy a sword to practice with. After looking around a bit I've become curious about how heavy a weapon I should buy.

I like working hard, really taking myself out when practicing martial arts, so with regard to that I can't see any real problem with using a heavier sword. I have however heard from multiple sources that generally it's better to start out with a lighter weapon, and then move on to heavier weapons once you're proficient with the techniques.

I can see how the techniques might be harder to perform accurately with speed when using a heavier weapon, as it gains more momentum etc. At the same time I know that, in order to be able to learn the techniques properly at all, I need to start out slow.

So I came here to ask if what I've heard is true? Is it better to start out with a lighter weapon, or is it just a matter of preference?

7 Answers 7


In general yes, it's better to start out with a light weapon as you have to learn the forms and techniques first, without being concerned about injuring yourself with a heavy or real weapon.

Usually you would learn the techniques with a wooden version of the weapon while at the same time learning how to strengthen the arms, wrist and fingers in style and weapon specific ways to greatly increase control, power and proficiency.

Remember, it's always best to train slow and smart, not fast and reckless.

  • 1
    You say "In general yes". Does this mean that there are exceptions, or was it just a figure of speech? Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 9:46
  • There have been exceptions in the past when in China for example during times of great crisis, masters would train a student with a regular weapon, even heavy ones like the Guan-do or the battle tai chi swords which could only be wielded with two hands. But this ran the risk of increasing injuries so most masters did not train a student in that fashion. The old masters also had special herbal knowledge that could greatly speed healing and increase strength to some degree, so again, that allowed them to break the rules at times. For modern times, slower & lighter is highly advisable Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 10:14
  • Thank you for the elaboration! I will keep this in mind when picking a sword for training! Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 10:19
  • @ Psyberion - My pleasure, all the best in your new endeavor. Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 19:35

I've actually learned more (in longsword) from a heavier weapon than I have from a lighter weapon. The key with longsword is to learn how to use the handle as a lever, and nothing teaches that like weight. It's very easy to tell when you're brute forcing a cut, as opposed to levering it with weight.

Using a light sword, it's possible to do things that just aren't possible in a real fight. In particular, combinations are possible with lighter steel, than can be done with proper weight swords. Light swords lead to a tippy-tap kind of sparring that would never work in a real fight.

I start my students, and started myself, with steel and not wood. The physics between wood and steel are so different, that there is no way to translate what happens with wood to what happens with steel. Initially I started them off with wood, but when it came time to transition to steel, their reflexes were all wrong, they had to learn a whole new set of reflexes. The key difference is that wood "bounces", steel doesn't. Students learn to use the bounciness in sparring to speed the next attack, and this creates combinations that don't work in steel. The springiness of wood also makes coming to the cross at the tips or middle, common occurrences in longsword, almost impossible with wood. This leads to students not understanding how to work at the cross, and hinders their development severely when moving to steel.

  • Thanks a lot for your response! I haven't thought of it this way, so I'm really greatful! Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 19:33
  • Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus's De re militari strongly agrees with your points although for different reasons. And what my teacher believed in was using both - swing a 2x weighted weapon for half an hour and then get a real one - you'll be amazed by the speed you have just developed.
    – Vorac
    Commented Sep 8, 2020 at 18:42

It is definitely best to start with a light weapon at slow speed.

You must give your body time to adjust to different movements and you must give your brain time to adjust to different techniques.

When using a light weapon you are able to cheat (using improper techniques) so by going slow you provide yourself with the time to make conscious choices about your movement, maintaing correct form.

Once your are comfortable (joints, muscle, mind) you can gradually increase the weight of your weapon.

There is always the temptation to progress but doing too much too soon can lead to serious injuries.


First off I think it our choice of trainingweapon depends on whether you want to start practicing on your own, or join a club. If you are planning to join a club, I'd say wait and see what they are using. Some clubs prefer steel other nylon wasters. This might save you the costs of new/additional gear ;). Also, and this might be different from club to club, my trainer always has tons of extra gear with him you can use during training. That way you don't have to invest a ton of money into it in the beginning. For all you know it might turn out it isn't what you expected it to be after a few lessons:). You can use the HEMA alliance club finder to find a club near you http://hemaalliance.com/?page_id=686 .

That being said. I'd advice to start with a lighter weapon more specifically a wooden or nylon waster. The choice depends on what you are trying to do. For instance, binding is better practiced with wood since the nylon version is a bit floppy when it comes to this. The nylon version is great for doing flowdrills. It's about 1/2 or 1/3 of the weight of a normal longsword. It is a bit harder to get the feeling and 'flow'right, but since chances are you don't execute the motion the right way the first time it's better for your joints. The first time I did a flowdrill the wrong way using a steel longsword my wrists hurt for about a week ;).

Most of the schools I know (over here in the Netherlands) use a nylon waster as their first training weapon. We use the Rawlings nylon longsword (I'm kinda guessing you want to start practicing longsword). It costs around 70 euros (bit of a guess here) and the site where we buy them from is the knightshop. I bet there are US sites that sell them too.

These can be used for sparring too. However as Jim Barrows said about wood, since it isn't steel it reacts in a different way making you able to do things you wouldn't be able to do things with a steel sword. Also, even though it isn't steel nor sharp still use the proper protection. From what I heard from my trainer steel breaks a bone more or less straight, nylon tends to leave a mess (also you can still poke someones eye out ;)).

Now for the steel weapons you have two choices. A blunt steel sword, or a federsword. I haven't used a feder yet but apparently it handles like a normal sword but is a bit safer. From what I know they used these at the Swordfish and HEFFAC tournaments, so I think they are the new tournament standard now (at least in Europe). The feders used at my club and at Swordfish are made by Peter Regenyei which is apparently on of the best in the business at the moment, or at least so I've been told.

Aah yeah, and please don't use the CAS hanwei ones. Those are banned from our club after breaking during fights and in particular after breaking during a stab resulting in the defender being pierced by it.

Another lesser know option (especially if you don't have a lot of room to practice) for flowdrills is the Swing http://www.mblades.com/ . I haven't used it yet, but apparently it is well received by the community.

I hope my reaction with what we use/ I've seen being used helps you out a bit with your choice.:)

  • Thanks a lot for your advice! I'm glad you mentioned the poor quality of the Hanwei federschwert; I've actually thought of buying one. And the swing looks very interesting, so I'll take a closer look at this! Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 23:15
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    @Psyberion Glad I could help:). I just saw on your profile you are from Sweden? In that case you might want to consider contacting these guys ghfs.se. They are a well known club and host one of the biggest HEMA events every year. They probably know the guy who makes the swing, making it easier to buy one;). Also they might be able to inform you on equipment. As for feders. I think most of them use the Regenyei feders which are around €200. It's big investment ,but considering you swing it at other people and don't want to hurt them accidentally I'd go for quality not price :P
    – Palvese
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 12:33
  • Yes, that is correct, and I've seen them before. Unfortunately Gothenburg is on the west coast, and I live on the east coast. But I May be able to go there some time to train perhaps. Anyway, thanks again, I'll have a look at the Regenyei feder! :) Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 0:31

Umm, not an expert but a few castles and armoury museums I've been to the medieval training swords were heavy (compared to the dao, jian, katana and other training weapons I've used). I suggest you try asking on http://www.thearma.org/ and if that doesn't help http://www.aemma.org/ (with sound turned off FFS)



  1. Helps you focus on correct form
  2. Prepares your body / Conditions your body

Learning the correct form is important when starting out, as having bad forms or bad habits will be harder to correct the further you progressed.

Lighter weapons are also easier to handle, giving you ample space to focus on techniques rather than strength.

As you progress you might want to get another sword with more weight but without changing its shape or size. This can be done by getting a sword with heavier materials.

I am trained in many type of weapons, but in the end I still enjoy the simple and enjoyable staff.

So remember.


Ill share my bo staff experience.

My first bo was a relatively light one. Its 5' 6", perfect height. I use this bo for all of my forms. Then, later on, after I developed all the fundamental skills, I switched to a heavier staff, 6'. I typically use the heavy staff to learn and practice most of my moves. Also, the heavier weight (especially with nunchaku) creates more momentum. This means if I'm doing nunchaku wrist rolls, the heavier, the easier it is to control the rotation. This isn't necessarily true with all moves, but you know how it is.

I then switch back to my lighter bo, to do all of the moves in full speed. Also, because my main bo is shorter than my practice one, it means I won't clip the ground or myself with my main bo.

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