Review of the Skulltec padded cap
The padded cap by Skulltec is a wonderful little garment to wear on your head beneath your fencing mask. The cap was developed to help athletes reduce their risk of concussions during sports, and for this precise reason it has significant value for practitioners of historical fencing.
The cap is close-fitting and not very bulky. In this respect it is a great improvement on the use of rugby scrum caps, as these tend to be somewhat bulky to provide the protection required in rugby. I have never managed to fit a scrum cap beneath my fencing mask, but the Skulltec cap fits well.
It is also light and breathable, which is an improvement on the historical padded cap (sometimes called an arming cap). I have used one of these in the past, and know various other people who choose to use them, but my main gripe is that the heat becomes unbearable after a little while! With the Skulltec cap, as it is made from modern materials and is designed to keep the temperature build-up to a minimum, this is much less of a problem.
Of course, the most important aspect of the review is how much the Skulltec cap helps to reduce impacts. I have been using it for an average of three hours of private tuition (where, as the coach, I receive hit after hit to the head for the majority of the time) per week for around seven weeks, and I can state quite confidently that when I wear the cap, I feel much safer inside my mask when my students are striking me repeatedly. Hits that would have been quite jarring are transmuted down to being simply a bit heavy; strikes that would have been a bit heavy are transmuted down to being barely noticeable in the grand scheme of things.
I won’t say that the cap is a complete solution and that it will save the wearer from all impacts or concussions. A very heavy hit will still feel hard, and you should still ask your training partner to lower the intensity if they are hitting you hard enough that you feel any pain. The cap acts like any typical piece of soft padding: it helps to reduce the impact, not to remove the impact entirely.
However, I am so impressed by this cap that I use it whenever I’m teaching a private lesson. I try to avoid even drilling in a lesson setting without wearing it, because I do believe that it is helping reduce the force of repeated strikes to my head – which can only be a good thing!
The Skulltec cap is available in the States through Purpleheart Armoury, and in Europe though the Academy of Historical Arts online shop. If you give private tuition, or engage in higher intensity fencing, then you should give quite serious consideration towards this padded cap or a similar solution, to help protect your head.
For further reading about dementia pugilistica, I wrote an article on the subject of “Dementia Pugilistica in HEMA” back in May 2014, that is still worth reading and considering.