This waster came seemingly out of nowhere onto the market, at a time were we are seeing very quick changes and developments in the line of sparring swords available for HEMA fencers. Its sleek lines and, for a Liechtenauer-fencer, odd-sounding name has raised a bit of attention amongst the HEMA fencers, but how does it hold up to closer scrutiny? Let's find out...
The Zugadore waster was designed by Revival.us in close collaboration with Brian R. Price, notable author of several books on medieval and Renaissance combat and the founder of Schola St. George, which today has 17 chapters spread out over the world. According to Revival.us it has been "seven long years in development and testing".
During this time frame Revival.us has tried "hundreds of variations of padded, wooden, composite and poly-based trainers" but found problems with all of them, primarily with regards to how much power can be used with them in relation to control. Finally, they decided to design their own product and we can now see the result of this ambitious effort.
A Zugadore within the Fiore Dei Liberi-tradition of fencing is a student learning from his fencing master, a swords "player", so the name for the sword is obviously chosen with students of the longsword in mind, perhaps with a slight slant towards the Fioreists. However, my familiarity with this fencing tradition is quite superficial, and I have to clearly state here and now that the following review is written from a Liechtenauer-perspective, where working from the bind with various leverage-manipulating techniques like Winden, Duplieren, Eusern Nym and Die Rose are vital. These types of principles may be less important for the Fiore-style of fencing, for which the waster was, at least in part, designed.
The construction seems very sturdy and is a bit unusual since it, apart from the cross, is made from one single piece of molded plastic onto which you slide the cross and then secure the cross with a rubber grommet. The only other synthetic longsword I have seen with this type of construction is the Cold Steel Training Sword with which it unfortunately shares many similarities.
The Cold Steel Training Sword
The SSG site mentions that other crosses can be offered eventually and even promises the possibility of crosses made from steel, aluminum or brass. The good thing about this construction is that it makes it fairly easy to disassemble the weapon for transport, but I find it odd that the pommel is integrated into the whole sword and therefore doesn't serve as a proper counter-weight to balance the sword.
Of course there is no need for a counter-weight, since the designer has chosen to make the sword extremely light. But, with future heavier crosses, the intended balance of the sword will likely be disturbed.
Looking at the material, the type of plastic that is used appears to be the same as in the horrible Cold Steel waster. It is light, and likely quite durable, but if it ever breaks I would bet it would leave fairly hard edges and if struck against metal, I expect some fairly sharp burring to occur. Not so much of a problem, unless you slice against bare skin. Yet, according to Cold Steel, their wasters are nearly unbreakable and can be run over by a car without much damage, so that accounts for something, doesn't it?
edit: I just learned of an incident where the cross broke in sparring. This may be a freak accident, but apparently they aren't completely unbreakable.
There is a simple reason why most synthetic longswords weigh in at close to 1,4kgs / 3.1lbs, and that is because most fencers have found that it is a weight that works pretty well, as long as the other characteristics of the blade are good. It also close to the weight of the real antique federschwert like the one in the Landesmuseum in Zürich. With the Zugadore weighing in at about half of the weight of almost all other synthetics longswords, I would prefer quite a bit more weight. Lightness is of course good for safety reasons, but too much will affect the techniques negatively, as I will expand on below.
The designer's intentions
The designers have clearly had safety in striking and thrusting in focus and in that respect they have certainly succeeded in making a safe weapon. These swords are well within the current trend of designing sparring swords intended for hard contact with little protection, something which was much too dangerous with the early synthetic wasters. However, there is a certain line that mustn't be crossed or you will create a weapon that is too difficult to use even with basic techniques. Unfortunately, I think this is the case with the Zugadore. In fact I would say that the line has been crossed with more than a few steps.
Still, the makers are clearly aiming at offering an affordable and safe sparring sword for beginners or those with less means to invest in expensive swords. This is of course an admirable effort that I certainly can respect. I'm not so sure if this ambition is very successful though. Cheap, yes. Safe, yes again. But a sparring sword? Not really. It is much too flimsy to be called that.
The design leaves me with mixed emotions. The fact that it aims at looking like a real sword is good, but the decision to aim at the lower price range, in order to reach the most customers, has forced the maker to compromise with quality. As a result, the sword not only comes at a cheap price, but also looks a bit cheap. In part this is due to the fact that the swords are molded, which often leaves a not so nice-looking finish. This is in common for several molded synthetic swords.
Worth mentioning is also the fact that the sword I received is nowhere nearly as nice-looking as the one shown on the site. I may have received an odd and ugly duckling, but there are very clear, twisted grooves in the grip that are likely a result of air inbetween the mold and the material. Of course you can wrap it with cord, tape or leather, but as it is, the sword looks somewhat "unfinished" and cheapish.
This waster is extremely light. Again; extremely light, weighing in at 0,6-0,7kg / 1.25-1.60lbs. This is half the weight of almost all other synthetic wasters and this makes the sword behave quite oddly. It feels like your not really holding anything in your hands.
When discussing this issue with the designer, he firmly claimed that all techniques that can be done with a proper steel longsword also can be done with the Zugadore waster. But, although I agree that you can do many of the techniques even with lighter weapons such as these when practicing, in actual sparring it is quite apparent that with a light weapon the majority tend to switch more to striking around fast and less to relying on working from the bind, since it is about as fast to snap around and strike from the other side. I certainly notice this amongst both other fencers as well as in my own fencing. Working from the bind and winden becomes almost superfluous, at least in the Liechtenauer-tradition.
Furthermore, the almost negligible weight is quite problematic both with displacing cuts, since the blades have too little mass to actually displace anything, but also when working from the bind, since the blades are very flexible even in the stiffer version of the two blades they offer. (Honestly, I really can't tell any difference between the two). This is a common issue when sparring with staffs of less or more weight, but I see no reason for this to happen with synthetic longswords. It has been proven, for instance at the Swordfish Tournament of 2010, that hard sparring can be done with considerably heavier wasters without risking more permanent injuries, while still keeping the protection to a miminum.
The cross is, just as with the Purpleheart Synthetic Longsword II, too thick to be able to comfortably use with the thumb or index finger overlapping the cross. As a result, you can't properly do a Zwerchhau, a Schielhau or a Schrankhut with the thumb reinforcing the blade.
I simply can't see the reasoning behind such a decision, especially considering that this sword has had seven years of development... Furthermore, the ends of the cross are surprisingly angular and pointy, which is very hard to see from the image above, and may cause unnecessary injury. Again, odd given the time that has been spent on designing these sparring swords.
The handle, according to the designer, "...has plenty of room for your hands", but seeing as the handle that is spoken of here includes a pommel that has a rondel in front of it, the actual grip between the cross and rondel/pommel is only 17cm /6.7in. This is not what I would define as plenty of room, especially not with Lacrosse gloves on. Finally, the pommel feels a tad bit large for my hands which, together with the sharp angles makes the gripping of the sword even more uncomfortable. Perhaps others find this more comfortable though.
And to continue with this litany of complaints, I am really not happy about the choice of material. After applying some pressure in a thrust, the blade stays noticeably bent, which is more than a little annoying to have to correct while sparring. However, this is a very common problem with many nylon/plastic sparring swords. Fortunately, there is a solution for this. It is called AMID PA6 and is a type of nylon that stays well in shape, even when thrusting with thin blades. This is the material that was used in the last Pentti wasters and at least three other makers are exploring this material right now, which is encouraging to know.
Is there nothing redeeming about these synthetic longswords then? Well, I do appreciate the ambition and work than has been put into designing this waster. It is great to see that there are quite a few manufacturers that show an interest in designing gear for the HEMA community and I wish I could be more positive in my criticism of the sword, but I simply can't do that and stay honest. With so much time spent on designing this and comparing to the competition it really should have been much better than the results we see.
The one thing that is good with these swords, is the price, since they come in at half the cost of several of the other alternative wasters on the market. So, if you are looking for a cheap, budget option, then this sword may be worth considering. However, I would rather suggest you save a few bucks extra and invest in any of the other synthetic longswords available. The Knightshop Synthetic Longsword falls into roughly the same price range, and with the new versions coming out soon, are a much better option.
Weight: 0,6-0,7kg / 1.25-1.60lbs
Blade length: 91cm / 35.8in
Grip length (with pommel): 25cm / 9.8in
Total length: 120cm / 47.2in
Price: ca €42 Manufacturer: Revival.us / Schola St. George