Finding good, suitable equipment for Hema is a problem we all wrestle with and there are few products aiming to fulfill our particular needs. I have been looking at shoes for handball, basketball, land hockey, boxing, wrestling, budo and regular sneakers, but none of them really hold up to closer inspection. They do work of course, but they are designed for other uses and thus have features that are slightly "off" with regards to Hema.
But, since we are fencing with swords, I thought I'd take a closer look at specialized fencing shoes. Having been naturally gifted with small but rather broad feet and high ankles I sometimes have problems finding shoes that fit my needs. This is especially true when it comes to specialized shoes and fencing shoes in particular are usually very narrow.
Searching the Internet I came across a few discussions regarding this problem and some recommended the Leon Paul Hi-Tec Blades shoes. After my earlier cheap Budo shoes died a violent death during a sparring match I was forced to make a decision. Looking at the Leon Paul site, I found that the Hi-Tecs Blades were available, but that further development of the concept had led to a new and improved shoe; The Scimitars.
The product description at the Leon Paul site reads as follows:
- Lighter more breathable uppers
- A re-designed more flexible Abrazone 3d area to protect the shoes if you drag your trailing foot
- Bio-Logic Anti microbial lining to keep your shoes smelling fresh
- New fencing specific Custom-Tec insoles with memory foam
The old Hi-Tec Blades have the following product description, and I assume that the same still goes for the Scimitars.
- Extended sole for maximum traction while lunging
- Protection zone to maximise life span if you drag your back foot
- Sole designed to grip on both metallic strips and gym floors
- Stability bar to prevent ankle injury when retreating
I won't comment much on the visual design of the shoe other than that I personally would have preferred a much more discreet shoe. I know that shoe designers want to build an identity that is quickly recognized by everyone, but to me, black is "the new black". The simpler the better in my opinion.
Still, this is a matter of taste, and I am sure many will find them attractive. Also, I have seen much more horrific design freakozoids...
Fitting and comfort
Putting the shoes on for the first time gave an impression of a fairly stiff and very light shoe and I was a bit worried if they really would adjust to my feet.
The Abrazone 3D area is made out of durable rubber, and although it flexes, it squeezes the toes a bit. Having worn them some more however, I really don't notice it any more. After a few training sessions, they have become more and more comfortable.
Still, I have had small problems with blisters on top of a few of my toes, caused by the somewhat rough upper inside of the shoe. I will have to get back to this later and see if the problem persists. It may also be a personal issue.
The "memory foam" is basically just an insole that adapts to the shape of your feet, making them more comfortable and a lot quicker than what leather does. I have read reports that this feature stops working after some time, but I cannot confirm this at this time. However, this makes it all the more important not to lend your shoes to anyone else, since that will probably ruin the "personalized" shape of the insole.
The Abrazone area will most likely protect the shoe very well, considering that Hema fencers don't drag their feet quite as much, unless you are a rapier fencer. Also, no other shoe type I know of are better equipped in this area.
The extended sole means that the rubber sole wraps up onto the sides all the way around the shoes, which gives you great traction, even when lunging in different directions. If you tend to drag your back foot, then this may enable you to retreat slightly faster.
Some think that fencing shoes gives too much traction, but personally I don't agree. However, I have also heard owners say that the soles have such good traction that they literally suck up all dust from the floor, which naturally can cause them to loose some traction. After having used them for some time I can confirm this. I'll leave it to you to decide if that is a good or bad thing. Also, if you feel that the soles provide to much traction it ought to be possible to adjust it by adding a little potato flourâ€¦
The fact that the sole is designed to grip on both metallic and gym floors is only relevant to sports fencing, since they fence on both surfaces, so I won't comment on this.
As for stability, the shoes have a very low outer sole and rounded heel with wedge midsole cushioning, which makes them perfect for moving in all directions. They aren't made for running but the shoes provide much more cushioning than the earlier Budo shoes I have been using so I don't think I will have any knee problems.
The Bio-Logic Anti microbial lining appears to work well, but I will have to revisit this area later, after having worn them for some time. From what I understand a lot of sports clothes and shoes have a silver powder coating to prevent unwanted odour, but this wears out in time and is also an environmental hazard. I do not know how Leon Paul has handled this, but I expect the odour resistance to fade with use.
So, what is my collated opinion on these shoes? Is a specialized fencing shoe good for Hema fencing too? Although the price is fairly high compared to for instance, Adidas land hockey shoes, I would say most definitely yes.
The needs of sports fencing and Hema fencing are close enough and in these shoes they overlap perfectly. Other fencing shoes are even more targeted at sports fencing and may cause problems when used for Hema, but these are perfect. The lightness, stability, flexibility, traction and durability make them a perfect shoe for Hema fencing.
However, these opinions are based on initial impressions of the shoes and will have to be confirmed, revised or refuted after at least six months of use. I will revisit this review around October and give you additional comments.
Manufacturer: Hi-Tec Shoes Price: about 86.20£. 108£ including shipping to Sweden. Link: http://www.leonpaul.com/acatalog/Hi-Tec_Scimitars.html
Review revisited Feb 17th 2010:
I have now been using these fencing shoes for about 10 months and I am extremely pleased with them. The seam inside the shoe that made the shoes somewhat uncomfortable have with time become less of a problem, as expected.
However, it has become apparent that I put much more strain on my right foot, and as a result the outer sole of the right shoe has been slightly damaged and worn. It is perhaps less than what could have been expected from other training shoes, but given the rather high price one needs to ask oneself the question if they are worth the price if they last approximately 18-24 months before you need to replace them. As always it becomes a question of economical priorities.
Review revisited July 8th 2012:
Having used these shoes for 4+ hours per week for more than three years now, these shoes have finally drawn their last breath. The rubber covering on the inside of the foot has come loose, the fabric is cracking and the anti-bacterial lining have completely given up and as a result the shoes smell, shall we say, interesting.
Again, I can highly recommend these shoes for fencing and I might just get myself another pair to replace my old ones.