Disclosure – the Weapon Store forwarded samples of this product for review purposes.
As the practice of “revived” Western martial arts becomes better established, an increasing number of manufacturers are developing professionally-produced training equipment specific to this niche market. So it is that the U.K.-based Weapon Store has introduced its Empire line of equipment for the practice of historical fencing and pugilism.
The Broughton pugilism gloves are appropriately named for prize fighter Jack Broughton, the English champion pugilist circa 1734-1740. Broughton’s innovations included formulating a set of seven rules for the prize ring as well as a codified system of scientific defence including the skill of “hitting away” (striking on the retreat). Broughton is also credited with the development of the first boxing gloves, called “mufflers”, designed to “effectually secure (his students) from the inconveniency of black eyes, broken jaws and bloody noses.”
The Empire – Broughton gloves are very conveniently packaged in a drawstring bag of calico or similar material, which also includes a pair of natural-fibre handwraps and a printed page of information about Jack Broughton’s boxing career. The right-out-of-the-box impression is that a great deal of thought and care has been put into the aesthetics of the whole package; although this type of glove is a modern invention, the natural materials and colours of the bag and handwraps and the tan-coloured leather of the gloves themselves are all plausibly “old school” and “old world”. This is a thoughtful touch for practitioners of historic martial arts, who may otherwise have to make do with less aesthetically appropriate equipment.
As with any new leather product, a “breaking in” period is required. Although comfortable over open or semi-clenched hands, the gloves are initially stiff enough that forming a tight fist is difficult. After stretching and absorbing sweat during several training sessions, they conform to a functional semi-clenched shape and the leather naturally darkens, which further enhances their aesthetic appeal.
Specific to Bartitsu training via the Bartitsu Club of Chicago, the Broughton gloves have thus far held up admirably to bag-work, pad-work, light sparring and jujitsu/wrestling/free-grappling drills (including wrist locks). The smooth leather piping offers no risk of abrading other trainees’ skin during serious grappling. After four months of regular weekly training sessions, the stitching and padding are holding up well.
Refreshingly, the gloves offer enough mobility to comfortably grip the thick cloth of judo/jujitsu gi jackets, and do not significantly interfere with dexterity even during Indian club manipulation exercises (which is, obviously, above and beyond their brief). Similarly, although the Broughton gloves are not intended for weapon fighting, they have also demonstrated value in safely absorbing incidental impact and eliminating abrasions to the covered portions of the hand during semi-improvised sick fighting drills.
The Weapon Store plans to bring out two further gloves designed for historic pugilism and related skills; the “Molyneux”, a 16 oz. heavy duty boxing glove, and the “Barton-Wright”, a very simple protector with a completely open hand to allow full freedom of movement while still offering a degree of protection when striking with the closed fist.