Sunday, April 17, 2022

Vet Armor Part 2: Taking it to the Max

In part two of this series, Allison and I share detailed instructions from a former clubmate (who prefers to remain anonymous). It is actually her "extreme armoring" that sent us down this rabbit hole. Below are detailed instructions, and photographs, of anon's modding technique.

"As a female fencer who's chronically vitamin D and K deficient with leaky vessels and trouble clotting, I've had to improve upon the gear. I'd get a synthetic FIE jacket that has a bit of room in it but is a good fit because as long as it stretches, it'll be fine for a sewing project. 
  • The easiest jackets to sew onto are the lightest of LP and Allstarr Startex. The harder, thicker ones are Negrini and PBT to get the needle through. I use quilting needles. 
  • I make an accurate pattern using the jacket onto sewing pattern paper, cut out neoprene of the desired thickness using the pattern, wrap white athletic mesh around the neoprene, sew the mesh onto the neoprene and sew the mesh onto the jacket. Don't use anything other than athletic mesh because they will break or absorb sweat to increase weight. Cotton or silk do not work well. Get a yard or two of the white mesh online or at a local sewing store. 
  • The best way to get neoprene is to buy waist protectors/ lifting belts and sweat belts at sports stores or Amazon. They differ by thickness and McDavid works for me. Look for the ones that don't have material or hardware on them. Cut off the piece that has the rough velcro. 
  • I've tried other materials than neoprene, including the expensive shin protector materials that LP sells but nothing is better than neoprene. 
  • Of course, you could use a sewing machine for the chest/ shoulder, but the arms require hand stitching. I know because I took it to a fencing mom who's a professional seamstress once and it cost over $375 for all the hand sewing so I sew it myself now and it looks almost professional. 
  • A well sewn neoprene piece will last as long as the jacket and I've had mine for 10+ years. You'll just need to reinforce where the mesh attaches to the jacket but nothing has ever ripped before. 
  • I'd recommend putting the work into a new quality jacket because it takes me 30+ hours to sew on all the pieces but if you're aiming to sew on just one or two where the guys are battering you, it'll be an afternoon project. 
  • For the collarbone and chest above the plastic protector and right bicep where we get hit often, I'd recommend 2 layers of neoprene wrapped into the mesh. For other places I'd recommend only 1 layer to not inhibit your flexibility, especially during infighting. 
  • I have pieces around the chest/ collarbone, right bicep, inner left bicep, left hand watch/ wrist/ right shoulder for flicks, right thigh and hip bone. 
  • For my knees and shine, I wear very loose compression braces made of neoprene. A 25 year old guy did a horizontal coupe missing my lame entirely, landing on my shin and breaking it two years ago. My coach got hit so hard on the hip bone every night at practice when he was on the national team his bone died and is permanently numb so definitely worth it to protect whatever parts you wanna keep. 
  • When you sew, stitch close to the stitch line to minimize thread appearance. Take larger 0.5-1cm stitches on the inside and take tiny, barely visible stitches on the outside. Use safety pins to secure the piece before sewing. After you've sewed a piece onto the jacket or pants where it holds up, try it on in the on guard stance, move a little to make sure the piece covers exactly how much of your body you want to protect. 
  • Use a synthetic thread, if you have a synthetic jacket. Do not use cotton thread, even if it's very thick because they don't last. I use Coats & Clark eloflex double threaded. 
  • Last month a blade bounced off my chest protector and broke a bone in my left hand so now I wrap it. 
  • The guys have given me bone bruises around the ankle that have shown up on x-rays so I put either a piece of neoprene or cut out of a foam shoe insert underneath my socks around the front ankle for their 7 and 8 parries/ searches."


We find this project inspiring, if a bit intimidating, and are working on various ways to simplify the approach. That might be the subject of a future post, after some experimentation. Meanwhile, please do weigh in with your own pictures and descriptions of vet armoring!

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Vet Armor Part 1

 The other Sunday, at RFA's Vet ladies' practice, we were trading notes on minor injuries. Emergent themes: how to assure the doctor/nurse they don't need to call protective services; how to tell a skin bruise from a bone bruise (ick); and (as a logical segue) various ways to reinforce or supplement one's gear to avoid the prior issues.

Face it, fencing uniforms are designed to avoid grievous bodily harm (Punctures. Death.) They do a pretty shoddy job of protecting skin and bones, particularly older skin and bones, from significant, even debilitating, trauma.

Hence this post, the first in a series exploring various ways Vets are modding their uniforms to preserve their own functionality as long as possible. Part 1 will share a round-up of ideas currently in use by Allison, me or our club mates, as well as some examples I've collected at NACs over the years. Part 2 will be a deep dive into the "extreme armor" created by a former RFA fencer. With your assistance, Part 3 will consist of your examples, contributed via comments on these posts, or on the Vet Women's Fbook group. Please share!

Let's start with gloves: actual fencing gear with extra features or deployed in non-standard ways.

Here's an example of the first: two fencing gloves that offer extra protection on the knuckles. 

Red Linea Nitro glove with heavy padding on the knuckles
Green Linea Octane in profile, showing hard plastic armor at the knuckles

These are both by Linea: the Nitro (red) and Octane (green) are available from the Fencing Post. 

While these glove provide some added protection, they are not fool-proof. I was hit between the fingers when wearing an Octane, and the impact split open the skin (requiring 5 stitches.)

Then there is the question of protecting the back hand, particularly if one has a tendency to, shall we say, put it at risk. Here's a picture I took many years back at Baltimore Fencing Club (now defunct). This fencer is "covering her bases" (as it were) by wearing a glove on her back hand, as well as keeping said hand firmly shoved into her breech's pocket. 

Fencer in full uniform from the back, her gloved off hand in the rear pocket of her knickers

On to legs. Before I met Joe Deucher, I did not realize that fencing knickers came in a full-length option. (Not to mention cool colors.) 

Man in full fencing uniform, including full length red knickers
rear pocket of red knickers showing Triplette's 350N competition grade tag

Joe's knickers (rated 350N) were manufactured by Triplette. I can see where a layer of competition-grade padding over the sock would help at least a bit.

Next up, my own go-to extra armor: soccer shin guards, which can be inserted into the sleeve jacket to protect against hard hits to the upper arm (*ahem* epeeists fencing foil, you know who you are), or into the sock of the lead leg to protect against low-line parries that turn into shin swipes. They are cheap ($10-$25 range), effective, easy to take in and out, as needed, without completely disrobing. Some models have perforations that provide a bit of ventilation. 

Soft, foam-padded interior of Nike shin guards
Hard plastic exterior of Nike shin guards

I briefly experimented with a roller-blading knee-guard ton my lead leg. Too bulky to fit under my knickers but certainly valid for practice. It might be competition-legal if you covered it with a sleeve (for example a sock or stocking with the foot cut off). 

Bulky black plastic knee guard with elastic straps

What about the torso? Here vet epeeist Lori Radich models an Easton "TorsoTection" boy's baseball chest protector, which features polyester padding sewn into a spandex, pull-on shirt.

Easton TorsoTection baseball chest protector, showing sections of padding sewn on to spandex base

Turns out there are a lot of potentially useful padded undergirding manufactured for other sports. See, for example "Nike Contact Support Forearm Shivers"

Nike forearm shiver, stretchy tube with hard plastic padding on exterior

And, from the realm of motorsports, the "Alpinestars Nucleon Flex Pro Shoulder Protectors

Alpinestars molded plastic shoulder guard with textured exterior

After getting popped right on the head of the shoulder joint recently, with two weeks of resulting soreness, this might the extra piece of armor I try next.

Alpinestars also makes hip protectors--I am wondering if I could position one over the front of the hip bone--another massively painful place to get hit--perhaps nested in a pocket sewn into my knickers, or into the compression shorts I wear under my uniform.

Alpinestars kidney-shaped hard plastic hip protectors, textured exterior padding
That's what we have so far, in the club and in our notes. Stand by for the second installment of this series (a.k.a "how to channel your inner Michelin Man") and please do send us pictures and descriptions of your own additional armor. You can leave comments on this blog, or on the corresponding post on the USFA Women's Veterans Fencing group in Facebook. 

Be well, and stay unbroken.


Saturday, January 15, 2022

Looking Back to Look Forward

Hello Ladies

It was so great to see some of you in San Jose last week. Your smizing eyes, your laughter, and your camaraderie was a balm to my pandemic-weary heart.

Marie Lawson at the July 2021 NAC/National Challenge

Between the masking, distancing, and the fact that many folks spent as little time as possible in the venue, I did not get any new pics for Fashionista. So today's posts is a nostalgic look at some of my most-beloved images from the past.

One of my all-time favorite outfits is Pam Guntrum rocking color-matched boa and head scarf at the 2018 Portland NAC, patriotically complemented with a red water bottle and foil tape. 

Pamela Guntrum, 2018 Portland NAC

Looking back over my files, I realize I have far more photos of vet women heading into or out of the venue, since I'm usually preoccupied with, you know, ACTUALLY FENCING on the days of my events. Fortunately, you are genius at accessorizing.

Waiting in the armory line, or gearing up, is a good time to document how fashionably bad-ass you are.

I occasionally am able to capture you flaunting your style between bouts.

LOOK AT THOSE SMILES. I miss them so much.

On the rare formal post-competition gathering, you clean up good. (Below, Val Asher, right, with Brazil's Claudia da Costa, at 2019 Vet Worlds.)

I particularly treasure the time we spend socializing and touristing before and after the events.

With my teammate Gemin Channing at the Utah Museum of Fine Art,
Salt Lake City NAC, December 2019

And remember, you don't have to wait for a national event to hang out with a badger! If you are in the vicinity of DC/Southern Maryland, drop by Rockville Fencing Academy for some bouting and we can head out for drinks and dinner afterwards.

With Pam Dressel, center, and Anne-Marie Walters at Al Carbon in Rockville, MD

If you have a plushie mascot, bring him/her/it along, and we can take selfies.

With RFA coaches Katherine Guernsey (Tabby)
and Liz Searles, née Blankenship (aka The Dormouse)

Looking forward to seeing you in Richmond in a couple of months. Stay safe and be well.

Salute, and hugs


Friday, July 9, 2021

Salute, Masks, En Garde

It was wonderful to see so many of you again in Philadelphia! 

Even though, most of the time, I could only see half-faces

Quite an ingenious and fashionable selection of (COVID) masks there were. Above right, my teammate Gemin Channing sports an "Air Queen."

Very light, good breathability, and holds fairly flat to the face (minimal obstruction to a fencer's field of view.)

Here's an ingenious solution to the problem of glasses fogging, courtesy of Marie Lawson, of DCFC:


She uses #M Micropore tape to seal off the top of the mask. (Sticks to the mask, painless removal from the skin. Yay.)

Many people went for style points:

Pinstripes are always classy

At the other end of the spectrum, RHINESTONES
This "Airgami" mask promises "Won't fog your glasses. Won't fall off your nose. Won't collapse onto your mouth. Won't muffle your voice." (Extra points for the pun.)
Bats, because...oh heck, why not?

A little political messaging was, shall we say, on point.

Some masks were even fencing-specific.

Notice all the "smizing!" (Eye smiles.) 

I think we were all a little nervous about the first national vet tournament since December 2019. Nothing to boost confidence like channeling your inner super hero.

After ~17 months of socially distanced, home-bound training, I know many of us struggled to convince our muscles to return to the strip. My teammate Pam Dressel introduced me to a miracle device to help with that challenge:

This, my friends, is a Sonic Handheld Percussion Massage Gun. Highly recommend. (Listing for $119.99 over at LifePro.) 

Speaking of socially distanced home training, I bet these "fencing arms" were a 2020 best seller for Blade Fencing:

(Maybe they sold out--I couldn't find these arms on their website)

Here was my own (involuntary) style statement for the event: 

Mismatched shoes, one my normal size 7 1/2, the other a 9 to accommodate a broken big toe and attendance padding. The emergency shoe is a Kempa "Attack," with a nice wide toe box. Have to say, it is quite comfy. They may be my next pair of "normal" competition shoes. In a smaller size. (If you are in the market for a very slightly used pair of size 9s, let me know.)

See you in Atlanta?