The subject of wasters is something which I have been meaning to write about for a while. I have certain opinions which I believe I need to share with regard to them and the change in attitude with regard to them. What needs to be noted throughout this discussion is that I am not decrying the use of wasters completely and utterly at all, merely that they are being used incorrectly in their current form.
Wasters have been a part of Western Martial Arts for many years, indeed their use can be documented as far back as the Roman period where wooden swords (rudius) were used by both legionaries and gladiators for practice. These weapons were used both against the Palus or pell, a standing stake and also in mock combats. Wooden weapons were used in these instances to ensure that no permanent injuries came to the combatants. This idea of using wooden weapons flowed through to the medieval and Renaissance periods and has been adopted in our modern period.
In the first instances the waster in the modern period was only available in wood, this made for a hard, not very forgiving item meaning that they were best designed for practice with another with control exercised on both sides, and of course use at the pell. The SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) took this one step further and used weapons made out of rattan in their melee combatants as a standard weapon for fighting in armour and so it has continued to this day.
More recently nylon and other forms of plastic waster have been introduced, these were, in the beginning, much more forgiving and thus allowed more free-play between the combatants so long as a level of control was shown. Indeed with regard to nylon wasters, back in 2011, I participated in some combats using nylon waster longswords in very minimal armour, and thanks to the control of my opponents and myself the worst the combatants walked away with was a welt here and there. You can follow the following link to have a look at some of those combats: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9PoU_i--20
Due to this particular outing it gave me the idea that if you needed lots of armour to use wasters with an opponent you're doing something wrong. This idea is quite contrary to what I have seen most recently where combatants fighting with wasters are having to armour up to the point where they might as well be using steel, as there is not much difference in the armour requirements. Further, in stark contrast to the playful nature of the bouts I was engaged with the injuries sustained have become quite a bit more serious.
In my opinion this has come about due to a mind-set in the eyes of the combatants using the weapons that they are only plastic so smacking their opponent around as hard as they like is no problem whatsoever. This has resulted in the increase in armour requirements and the increase in injuries from using wasters. The respect which goes from holding a steel weapon in the hand seems to be absent when holding a waster and it is this which needs to be re-introduced. I think part of this comes from realising exactly what a waster is and where it comes from and what it is for.
The waster is to the steel sword, the same way the foil was to the smallsword. To be more precise, both the waster and the foil are practice weapons and nothing more and thus should be treated as such. Their original Roman, medieval and Renaissance use needs to be recognised and thus the tool needs to be used the way it is supposed to be. The waster should be used to demonstrate control over a weapon and present technique with the weapon, just as the foil is designed to teach the new fencer the basics of how to use the epee and thus the smallsword.
Armour should be reduced for the use of wasters and the control of the combatants increased. If this requires them to slow their actions down in order to do this, then that is what is required. Should a tournament be fought with wasters, the aim of the tournament should not only be to see who is the winner at the end of the tournament, but also who presents the best form in technique and control of the weapon as they deliver blows and also defend against them. In essence, the respect for what a waster is and the tool that it is needs to be recognised and respected for what it is.
Should we continue down the path which we are on, what will be the difference in combat with wasters as to steel? What will be the difference in combat with wasters as to what the SCA does?