Hi there, Julian Schuetze here on behalf of the Collective. I wanted to share my thoughts on the Wukusi Cobra mask. I've been using this mask for almost a year and a half now, and I can confidently say that it is worth it. While it may not be necessary to replace a fully functional current setup, I do believe that the Wukusi Cobra mask should definitely be considered for your next mask. And if you’re looking to get into HEMA, then you should definitely start here.
Mine after a fresh coat of blue paint. Gotta rep dem school colours
I have a degree in coaching, kinesiology, and have a diploma in sport sciences and also some certification regarding concussion assessment & maintenance - and let me tell you that CTE (or other forms of long-term brain trauma) is definitely something that we're not taking seriously enough in HEMA. Even if you get hit in the head without a concussion, you are still experiencing brain damage which does add up over time. Since fencing masks does very little to dissipate the force, pretty much every hit in the head you are experiencing is leading to something nasty long-term. I personally have already suffered two concussions from being hit in the back of the head with a traditional mask and overlay combination. So, I really wanted to get something substantially more protective - which is the main reasons I decided to purchase this.
The Wukusi Cobra mask is constructed with a two-part hard shell and foam on the inside, which sits atop a fencing mask. While it may appear bulky at first glance, it has been measured by a few people and found to be about the same size as a mask and overlay combination. However, the shape of the mask does give it a somewhat "bobblehead" appearance.
The hard shell is the defining feature of this mask, and it performs exceptionally well in two ways. First, it works on the principle of armor - the hard surface spreads the force of impact over a larger area, while the padding underneath absorbs it. This means that you feel less of a hit. Secondly, the shape and hard material of the mask causes many strikes to skip off at an angle, rather than digging into the material and potentially causing injury. Meaning that most of the force glances off, as opposed to going directly into your head. I have personally experienced very little impact on my head when using this mask, with the exception of a horizontal cut to the side of my head. Even then, the impact was significantly less than when using an AF or Rearguard mask.
In terms of durability, the Wukusi Cobra mask has held up very well. I have not noticed any cracks or signs of material fatigue, and the mesh has only sustained mild impressions from particularly strong cuts to the face. I am a high intensity fencer however, so this is within the realm of expectations for me. The only mild issue I have encountered is that the zap straps at the top of the mask broke off, but I have not noticed any negative effects as a result as it doesn't seem like it actually impacted anything.
I have heard concerns about the noise level of the mask inside when struck, but personally, I have not found it to be an issue. The foam on the inside does a good job of insulating the wearer from noise, and I have not experienced any ringing in my ears or excessive loudness from strikes to my head. After talking to and hearing other people's opinions, this seems to be mixed. Some say that the noise doesn't bother them at all, others claim that they find it deafening. I'm not sure why there's such a mixed bag, maybe it's just up to individual people's tolerance, but I'm usually pretty sensitive to noise so I'm not sure if that's it. Perhaps how tight of a fit it is? Different production batches with varying thicknesses of foam? I'm not sure - definitely something to keep an eye (or ear) on.
One potential drawback of the mask is its insulation and lack of airflow since there’s no perforation anywhere outside of the front of the mesh. While the insulation can be helpful in colder environments, it could potentially be uncomfortable in very hot weather. I have heard from some who fence with these in hotter weather that the heat difference is noticeable - but from others, not. Again, it seems like a mixed bag. I would say that if temperature is a primary concern for you, that you may still want to not let that deter you of this mask. If heat retention is high enough for it to become a problem, I still think the improved protection is worth it. What you would have to do is just adjust your sparring - take more, and/or longer breaks between bouts. Hydrate more, etc.
Something else some people expressed concern over that I’ve seen is the lip here from where it transitions from the mesh to the cover, and having swords “catch” onto it. I found this doesn’t happen really, if your sword has a rolled tip, or the spatulation doesn’t have a square angle, it will just kind of skip off. I tried testing to see what angle a sword has to come at for it to catch on the lip, and it has to be pretty much almost vertical, and I don’t really see that happening all that much.
Another big elephant in the room is price. This mask is definitely expensive. from Socal Swords it’s $245 USD socalswords.com/collections/gear/products/wukuski-cobra-fencing-mask, $290 CAD from Swordgear www.facebook.com/SwordGear.HEMA.protection.and.practice.swords
However, I feel like the protective features of this mask make that price worthwhile every time. As I’ve said, I received 2 concussions doing HEMA with the "standard" kit prior. There is no price you can put on preventing brain damage - which is why I would recommend this to be your next mask without any hesitation. This mask will keep your brain the safest compared to most, if not all the other HEMA options, and I don’t think your brain is worth saving a few bucks. Plus, in theory, you’d have to replace this mask far less frequently than a standard fencing mask due to the fact that the crown doesn’t get dented. So perhaps in the long run it would be cheaper.
This sort of damage will not happen with a Wukusi mask.
I just wanted to spend a bit of time talking about other people’s opinions of the mask, so you’re not just taking my word for it. I’ve been collecting opinions for the last year or so as more people have been getting them, this is probably a quick summary of maybe 15 different people. The general consensus is that everyone is very happy with theirs and also highly recommends them. They all report significantly reduced impact to their heads and are very happy with the level of protection. They’re all happy with the levels of durability and are all satisfied with them as a whole. I personally have not seen any negative comments about them, outside of a couple people saying they feel warmer wearing them. But I have also heard other say that it feels the same to them. To me it feels about the same as well, so, I suppose it is what it is.
The biggest issue that I've seen, is that the masks do fit big from their measurements. They're very loose compared to the measurements you get, which generally I wouldn't consider a problem as you can just fit a gel-cap or something underneath. However - if you have a small head, then this is a pretty big issue. My friend Brittany from Mordhau ordered the smallest size available that (should) have fit according to their sizing chart. But it was still way too big - she could rotate the mask 90 degrees on her head.
My final thoughts on this mask, is that I think this is the pinnacle of where we can get of just adding things on top of a fencing mask. Although I'm sure improvements can and will be made, this is roughly it. But, I really wished we had more companies spending effort R&D for a HEMA specific solution for head protection. The problem with a fencing mask is that regardless of what you do, that force is still just going right into your head. What would be good to see is affordable options that have a proper suspension system. If we had as many people looking into HEMA specific head protection as we do for 5 fingered gloves, we would have some great options out there.
Well, thank you for reading this review of the Wukusi Cobra mask. I hope you enjoyed it and found it helpful.
Video TLDR here: https://youtu.be/ZIMzTn1eJHU
We acknowledge that The Historical Combat Collective operates on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Kwikwetlem, Sto:lo and Songhees First Nations Peoples. We are grateful to have the opportunity to gather, work, and train on this land.