The European Historical Combat Guild

Investigating Europe's Historical combative methods and behaviours

Friday, 15 October 2010

Do Western Martial arts need a Uniform?

There have been suggestions and discussions about a more formalised uniform for Historical European Martial arts training and what that unifrom should be.

A number of groups’ wear clothing more or less closely based upon that worn by fencers. Others wear clothing loosely replicating 14th/15th century clothing and footwear. Others who concentrate on wrestling and grappling wear uniforms based on what surviving traditional systems wear. All suit the needs of the groups that use them or at least they are adequate, otherwise why wear them.

In the Guild we have a uniform of loose black trousers, (I wear heavy-duty martial arts trousers) and a T-shirt of the Chapter colour fitted with the Guild badge. This was a decision based upon the fact it needed to allow movement, be relatively easy to wear, purchase and clean. Also as a group studying more than one period and style the uniform needed to be adaptable. We also suggest that members wear flat soled, un-cushioned shoes with good grips, as these more closely replicate period footwear than modern super sports shoes.


Clothing or uniform needs to be considered in several ways and should address certain points, which I shall address below

How it affects the movements one can carry out. If one works in the clothing of a period, and this includes the appropriate footwear, one understands the how and why of the movements and footwork better, it can also lead provide insight to why certain movements are done in what may seem illogical wearing a different type of clothing

How it affects the technique, this is obviously relates to the above but also specifically certain techniques, in grappling for example, where the clothing is used to secure holds etc. Only by wearing the appropriate clothing will you understand the action, it may also be that you can only properly apply the technique when wearing the right clothing

How practical is it? The clothing should not be another expense that burdens the students unnecessarily. It also needs to be hard wearing enough to put up with the rigours of training with out the need to repair or replace it.

However if we are striving for accuracy or authenticity then there are other things we should insure as well.

One should train in realistic environments, outside, on uneven terrain, or if inside then on surfaces that replicate those of the period understudy. After all the historical techniques were not designed to be used in a modern gym.

The clothes need to reproduce the originals as accurately as possible. If what you are wearing is not fitted or cut like the originals then you aren’t going to get the insight, you are just going to be training in fancy dress. However do you risk slipping in period footwear and injuring yourself or those you train with. Of course if you wear period footwear all the time you will become accustomed to it and should be no less likely to slip than anyone else. However if you only wear the clothes and shoes when training what are you really learning? After all our ancestors wore the clothes all time.

There are the secondary reasons for wearing a uniform. It helps to develop a group identity for the Chapter/organisation. A uniform contributes to develop a more disciplined approach and mind set, in that when you take of your normal clothes and put on your uniform, you are also entering in to a training mind set. It looks better, everyone is uniform and certainly when attending a multi-group event it can help to identify different groups and schools Ultimately these are considerations of less importance than those mentioned above

In conclusion, when possible any scholar should try to work when they can in a good approximation of the clothing and/or armour of the periods they are studying. This should include correct footwear and training while wearing these things outside on appropriate surfaces.
However it is the training that is most important, the clothes, footwear and environment when worn can give insight and understanding to certain things, but they have to be appropriate, otherwise one can end up just training in “funny” clothes.

Jonathan Waller

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