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Physical Chess Cares.

Clubs, Schools and Physical Chess

Clubs and schools are the heart and home of fencing. In order for them to serve, they must both survive and inspire, show durability and vitality.

Physical Chess, a veteran in serving fencers with information and quality, has the pleasure of putting before you the first pages of what will become a fully-considered catalogue of supplies and possibilities to help clubs and schools prosper and shine.

Here is the beginning of a practical handbook, and a guide to the potentials that lie just beyond. We take into account the need of clubs and schools to be economical and distinctive and the needs of fencers to be properly and safely clad. We work from the basics of the sturdy and extend into greater use, comfort and style. The watchword is CUSTOMIZATION.


Let’s start with a look at jackets and knickers.

The most important thing for you to know is that OUR uniforms, all of them, all 5 lines (back zipper, front zipper, 350N, 800N, FIE), from club practice to competition-rated to FIE-approved, are made by us, Physical Chess personally, in the USA.

We select the best fabric and cut and sew in house. By making uniforms ourselves, we not only exert the greatest degree of quality control but also assure a ready supply, which you can’t count on if you depend on far-away sources.

The idea of CUSTOMIZATION has many sides. For us, part of it lies in the basics.

Take, for instance, sizing of uniforms. More and more these days, clubs run classes for very young students: 5-8 years old. The sizes are much smaller than what is normally available, even for kids.

Physical Chess answers this big need by being able to make runs of the smallest sizes. And, at the other end, the problem of suiting a size 68 inch jacket is small. We also offer a second line of school and club practice jackets with padding, for comfort and reassurance against the blade, padding for any size.

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A fencing uniform is very much like the fencer it protects. It has to withstand forces that attack it and the pieces have to hold together. It has an anatomy and a psychology.

The jacket has to hold together against the twists of the torso and sudden movement of the arms, the knickers against the constantly changing pressure of the legs as they bend and shuffle and stretch to lunge; and both have to bear up under the beating of a washing machine and the reshaping of drying.

It is worth a quick tour of the uniform, and even taking out a jacket and knickers of your own for comparison, to understand the construction: how the basic units are all tied together to make a long-lasting garment and not just an assortment of patches waiting to come apart at the seams; of how things move when they should and other parts weather the stress of movement.

The areas of interest are: zipper, buckle, d-ring for electric hook-up, straps, Velcro, and thread and stitching.

Zippers are first quality, well-formed, durable plastic, never leaving rust marks. The easy zip marks a satisfying moment of readiness. They stay in place and hold, not peeling away into free space, because they are double-stitched on each side of their long borders.

Buckle and d-ring are heavy cast plastic that last and likewise leave no rust. They are anchored to the jacket by a short band of heavy, woven fabric (we never use cheap elastic, which stretches and frays with strain and washing); and both ends of this connecting strap ( one looped around buckle or ring and the other attached to jacket) are strongly secured by double-stitching.

The groin strap is made of the same heavy weave as the short piece, attached at the front again by double-stitch and hitching at the back to the well-secured buckle. This is a very durable arrangement, once again in contrast to elastic which can shrivel to a useless thong.

The velcro patch which keeps the neck of the jacket closed is particularly good example of the benefits of a fine material and careful design. These pads endure great forces as they cling to and tear away from each other. They are a great tool, but can only work if they are kept in place. To do this we not only stitch around the edge of each pad, but also criss-cross it with an x running from corner to corner.

The last and most often overlooked element is the stitching itself.

Stitching is the signature of a design which understands the balance of forces at play or it represents a weak link that can be counted on to go bad.

Without good stitching and the proper thread, one that matches the characteristics of the fabric, strong for holding yet pliant in drying, the garment you bought quickly starts to tear or unravel.

There are 3 important stitches we use to keep things together, basics which thread through every jacket and knicker of our in-house lines:

The double-stitch, two tight parallel lines of thread which ensure that layers hold together at the outside edges. A single stitch here is a soon-fullfilled promise of coming apart.

Double-stitch with overlock, used for the seams between interior panels, where the stresses are greatest. The overlock is a zig-zag closing of the seam edges at the back, behind the double-stitch; it reinforces the double-stitch and also seals the seam at the inside edge to prevent the layers being pulled at from within. This is the same ultra-strong stitch that you find inside the legs of good jeans.

The x-stitch, a criss-crossing of a small rectangular area, as on the velcro at the neck of a jacket or the end of the buckle strap that attaches to the jacket. The x-stitch ties down material across its surface when the expanse of it has to be carefully kept in place.

This is how we make our uniforms, with an experienced eye and a determination to see them live up to the needs of protection and durability. These are our basics.

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Against this background, we can take a closer look at our club line and begin exploring customizing features that add function and value.

There are two lines of club practice jackets, one with padding, one without. We’ll talk about the one with padding, but you’ll know we’re talking about both, as padding is the only difference. The padding in this line is an expanse that covers the front and flanks ( the area from the arm pit down to the waist).

The jackets are back-zips, which is an advantage for clubs and schools, as they work for either left or right-handed students and you never know how many of each you may get for a class or a year, or the many years that these extremely sturdy jackets will last.

These jackets are recommended for clubs, schools, practice, beginners, kids, and school and club youth competitions. They meet all USFA standards for safety. They are made of cotton and/or polyester duck (a tough weave like jeans but heavier and more protective) and crafted with all the detailed attention of stitching and accessories that was outlined before.

The padding has a physical and an emotional effect. It is reassuring from the moment a student puts the jacket on. And when practice begins, it cushions the impact of the blade and allows the beginner to continue to learn and drill and fence without being apprehensive or distracted. Padding is a good learning tool.

Wearing a padded jacket is a little bit different. It is slightly bulkier, slightly warmer. Though these drawbacks can rest lightly if comfort and reassurance play a large role. When a beginner gets to the point of no longer wanting the feel of a padded jacket, it may be time to move on to another type of jacket, for which there are other means of protection.

Padding can go into every size club practice jacket from the smallest to the largest, and, if requested, the amount can be doubled or tripled.

Another practical idea is having the custom feature of a large pocket sewn across the chest on the inside of the jacket. Into this pocket goes a men’s plastic chest protector, which is both durable and inexpensive.

This approach is especially useful for clubs and schools in outfitting introductory classes for older girls and women, in addition to older boys and men.

All are given the protection that suits the development of their bodies with the sturdy flat plastic shield. The shield serves both female and male. Additionally, since the long-wearing back-zip jackets work for both right and left-handed fencers, the supply that you bought continues to serve for group after group, for years, no matter how the number of male and female varies.

A club or school can also buy form-molded women’s chest protectors for the female students (in the variety of sizes and numbers that are impossible to predict), and quickly figure out and order what it lacks for a new class. But this is a lot more trouble, not really necessary for beginning classes, and not nearly as economical.

A last word is in order concerning protection – the underarm protector. An item that is often neglected, ignored or considered optional.

It is like a one-arm t-shirt made of puncture-resistant material worn beneath the jacket, over the shoulder of the fencing arm. Its purpose is to deflect a broken blade that has come through the jacket and is on its way into the body, through the armpit, chest or the ribs. To deflect it by the strength of the material and by lettting the fabric shift with the force, guiding the blade past, around the body.

The club model underarm protector is made of two layers of tough duck (providing a second sliding shield if the outer layer is penetrated) and double-stitched to keep the barriers in place.

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Finally come a couple of custom features that might seem extravagant at first, as they would appear to be concerned with style rather than utility; but here utility and style are directly connected.

The first is having color in the uniforms, rather than the standard white. A school or club color marks the uniform as representing the special home from which the fencer comes. It is a statement of distinction and pride and style, like the uniforms of any team. Special colors are available as a special order.

The second, less expensive and perhaps more interesting option is stenciling the uniform – jacket or knickers or both. The stencil can be a club or school name, a motto, a school or club crest or logo. That’s really up to you.

And also, of course, if you wanted to go all the way, you could have a special color and stenciling.

But below the surface of a pleasing style lies a very practical consideration: Limitation of losses. Once jacket and knickers are distinctively marked, you will be able to pick them out during a school match or club competition or in the aftermath when all sorts of personal gear gets left all over the place. And people are less likely to walk off with them by mistake or design.

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The jacket is only half the story, the upper story. What tends to slip beneath notice is the need for protection below. You need knickers. Sweat pants or warm-up pants won’t cut it; in fact they will be cut.

Thick jeans, although of suitable fabric, don’t cover the area above the waist, which is occasionally revealed with the jacket riding up during the twists of fencing. And just as knickers are required for a fencer’s protection by the rules, they are also an important protection for the club for insurance policy.

The knickers that go with club uniforms are made of the same tough fabrics as the jacket and they protect and function with the same high quality features of the jacket. The same careful matching of thread to fabric, double-stitching for panel seams and sturdy zipper (which are lacking in many overseas-made uniforms, leading to their rapid falling apart); the same durable heavy cast plastic buckles for adjusting suspenders, if that customizing option is ordered. This comprehensive design is basic to every knicker we make, from the club model to the top drawer of our FIE models.

Now here are unique features of our club knickers, extras that are standard – common sense, clever, useful, but conceived and executed only by us.

The first concerns coverage of the flank, that vital area above the waist left vulnerable by sweat pants or jeans. Here from the waist up runs a four inch band of semi-elastic material. Protection lies not just in the hard wearing fabric, nor in the elasticity, which left to its own devices tends to wilt and roll and fold over, drooping to the waist.

Protection and fit are ensured by its unique construction. The continuous expanse is held together front and center with an overlapping Velcro closure. What’s that you say, you have seen this before? Look more closely. For it is not a narrow strip meant to deal with a body shape that is already perfectly suited to the size; it is a long bed of Velcro that allows firm cinching at intervals like holes in a belt, to perfectly accommodate the variety of flat or rounding stomachs, and thus assures the holding in place of this necessary swathe of protection.

In the matter of securing the knickers, you also have the customizing option of suspenders. In this case the rule of quality and consistency again holds. The material of the suspenders is the same sturdy weave as the jacket’s groin strap, a band that will not shrivel, stretch or thin to a thong and make tightening difficult and tentative. And the buckles that harness the suspenders are the same heavy plastic as those of the jacket.

The second innovation is more subtle, but not less significant. It is flaps over the zipper – to prevent a wayward blade from finding a weakness in the protection of another vital area.

In right or left-handed knickers, if there is a flap, it is only on the front, the side from which the blade is coming. But club knickers must serve for both right and left-handed fencers and otherwise serviceable knickers would have a built-in flaw if a fencer’s hand did not match the knicker. These club knickers have a flap over each side of the zipper and in advance complete the proper protection, no mater which fencer comes to hand.

Leaving the unique that is standard, we come to the tail end.

There is a pocket on the rear of the knickers. Aside from any normal use, there is actually a fencing function to it. It is there to stow the reel end of the body cord when the fencer is not hooked up. Rather than have it dangling and dragging along the floor to get caught around a chair leg and the delicate wires jerked or the plug exposed to feet stepping on it, it stays in the pocket, safe and ready for action.

The humble and practical pocket also shows unexpected flash as an area for style. Being practical, it can be sewn to either side of the seat or, by customer’s order, there can be a pocket on each side. And for flair, it or they can be in color, to give contrast to the standard white or to serve as counterpoint to a special order color for knicker and jacket. A pocketful of possibilities. Whimsical perhaps in this case, but doable. And that is the point.

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The paths of the useful and style are continually interwoven, in life and fencing. Equipment must be useful, functional in its service, yet nothing remains the same. Things come to light which had either been lost or are simply part of a new circumstance. Style is often the recognition of a need, an awareness. And what is useful, if designed to give pleasure also, will always call on style.

The list of sturdy items which can be invested with variety and style is as long as the list of fencing necessities.

For foil: French or German points; more than 10 blades of fully explained qualities; multiple models of guards (from budget to the lightest and most durable titanium alloy, space age steel); a rainbow of tape colors to brighten the blade end; thumb pads in 3 materials, colored to please the eye; 14 handle types, colored to order; choice of socket, one with durable gold coating for super conductivity; choice of pommel nuts.

Epee and sabre boast an equal strength of construction and variety of choice. There are 12 gloves to hold the created weapon. Lames across the spectrum from budget to highest known quality and with a wink to the future – soon – the twinkle of a new fabric. Other lames in color or of many colors, to reflect school or club or preference of style along. Strong and silent shoes to move the whole.

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And where to store the whole?

A bag. But even this practical answer is just a beginning. A bag with wheels, one with a shoulder strap, round like a pear for mask and a few weapons, slender for a single weapon and spare blade, a bag with handles long enough to put over shoulders and carry like a back pack? Practical decisions leading into the land of style.

What shape, what purpose, how many pockets? Must be sturdy and …what color? Color is not only pleasing but makes the bag stand out among piles of others when bags congregate at competitions and airports. Some models can have stenciling or imprinting or weaving on them – name, club or school name, club or school logo, motto, family crest, a design. The sight of it gives pleasure and reassurance. It is there and the markings gleam.

Once the enchanted bag is again opened, it is possible to find the spell attached to almost every item within. The alchemy of stenciling can be worked on fabric of jacket, knickers, underarm protector and lame.

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And now by our unique offering of electro-etching, stencil can be chemically burned into metal and steel: a brand or pattern on the outside or inside of the guard, a name or emblem stamped on the side of handles, a trail of identifying letters on the blade itself as it enters the guard.

These markings are not simply decorative fancy, but guardian spirits. In the hurly-burly of competition, momentary distractions can result not only in loss of touches but of equipment as well. Stencils make equipment stand out to the eye and protect it from pilferage, for they will always reveal the proper owner, even down to blades, guards and handles.

With this we return to the matter of money, which is never absent from consideration. Mostly it seems to be going out. However we have also created an opportunity for clubs and schools to save money on stenciling and even make a little into the bargain.

The cost of stenciling for jackets, knickers, underarm protectors and lames can be reduced with our two lines of self-stenciling kit and our new innovation, the ready-made stencil on a fabric, which you can sew onto a jacket or breeches. We cut the self-stencil to order and then the club can use the special spray paint to put it on. Using the kit, the club will either be saving money for itself, or be able to make the up-charge for the stenciling while also saving money for a member.

As for money going out, it comes back as value: in long-lasting, well-designed and well-crafted uniforms and lames, in good blades and guards, and all the quality supporting equipment that goes with them. And wherever you chose to spend more and customize, adding a feature or style, you add practical value as well.

All the best, Physical Chess