It is Academy policy that if training weapons are used in practice, if there is any possible opportunity for them to make physical contact with a training partner, that all participants wear competent (CEN-rated and in good condition) fencing masks (with back of head protection where appropriate).
It is not permitted to decide that participants “will be fine” and will not need fencing masks; if there is any chance that physical contact will be made, then participants must wear fencing masks. This includes physical contact to the stomach, chest or arms; even if the head is not a target, a slip or other accident may result in contact with the head, and so fencing masks should be worn.
It is the instructor’s responsibility to tell participants what protective gear needs to be worn, and it is the instructor’s responsibility to mandate fencing masks in line with this policy.
Other Protective Gear
Instructors should also tell students when other protective gear needs to be worn. For example, if an exercise is going to involve any risk or danger to the hands, then appropriately padded gloves should be worn.
It should not be left up to the participants to choose what the minimum level of equipment should be for any given exercise; the instructor has the responsibility of telling the participants what is required for each exercise, and ensuring that everyone is wearing appropriate protective gear.
Participants may choose to wear additional gear above and beyond the items mandated by the instructor. Instructors should not tell participants to remove safety gear, unless there is an exceptionally good reason why this instruction should be given. For example, simply wanting people to fear the injury that comes with being hit is a bad reason for telling participants to remove gear; a better reason might be along the lines that the construction of that piece of equipment is a health hazard to other practitioners due to sharp edges or sharp corners, or that the instructor does not believe that the equipment is actually suitable for purpose.
This is left up to the discretion of the instructor, but the general policy should be that participants should have the freedom to choose to wear more protective gear than the minimum level mandated by the instructor, although the instructor does have final say of whatever is acceptable or not in terms of being suitable for purpose.
Equipment vs Behaviour
It might be tempting to blame unsafe behaviour on the fact that someone is wearing “too much” protective gear and is therefore not feeling or acknowledging hits. It may also be tempting to “explain away” unsafe behaviours (such as hitting with wild abandon, without control) by pointing to the equipment that a practitioner is wearing (“oh, you can’t control the sword properly in heavy gloves anyway”).
It is our policy and belief that behaviour is a separate issue from equipment, and instructors should ensure that their students learn and display appropriate (safe) behaviours at all times, regardless of what equipment they may or may not be wearing.
Asking people to remove equipment in an attempt to influence or change their behaviour is typically not a suitably safe option. It is typically better to treat behaviour issues as behavioural problems and to address these directly, while considering protective equipment merely as what is worn to prevent injury, and therefore protective equipment is not to blame for unsafe behaviours or actions.