Back to the source – Historical European Martial Arts documentary

The…sword is a symbol that has been very important in Europe for a long time. It’s at the core of pretty much all of our mythology and all the literature and stories that we have. The first time anyone ever holds an actual steel sword, the look in their eyes, from small children to old ladies, and everyone in between. There is a certain magic about that moment. There are so many reasons that people join HEMA and…so many reasons that they stay in HEMA. The people who join are usually interested because… Firstly there’s swords… I think… that doesn’t need explanation. Swords, oh my gosh swords! We love swords! Everybody loves swords! The people who come in are interested in learning something and the people that stay find what they’re looking for. I couldn’t really describe per se why I love it so much. It’s just..I can do it forever. It’s mentally challenging, as well as physically challenging, it sort of has an all around… workout of the body and the brain. I love the community, more over than anything, just the… how humble the fighters are, wanting and willing to help each other. It’s more like we’re brothers in arms, but past that it’s just the martial aspect, the techniques, what you can do with weapons that are this length, or longer, or even shorter. People get drawn to HEMA, usually because there’s something about the source material that is exciting or romantic to them. If you just want to learn how to fight, there’s a million places and disciplines where you can do that, so people see the sword and think “Wow! I wanna be like that guy in that movie that I loved when I was 12, and secretly still love now.” I remember one time, I ran into someone from high school, and I was just pulling into my parents’ house and he was across the street and we just got to talking about where we are in life and what we’re doing and of course, HEMA came up and he said “Oh yeah I’ve gone to a couple of those groups that do the re-enactment and I’ve gone to LARPing and we fight with swords too!”
I was like “Oh that’s cool! do you wanna see my stuff?” Of course I always have my gear in my trunk of my car and I pulled a longsword out, and I pulled a rapier out and I was showing him and his eyes got big and he was like “Ohh, this is not what I thought you were doing when you said you do HEMA”.
– One of the beautiful things about HEMA is that there are various aspects that appeal to different people. Some people love the physical objects, the swords, the history. I like languages I like the books, the fun athletic parts, the competitions. But very much so, the scholarship isn’t it isn’t divorced from the practice, the scholarship very much drives HEMA. By doing this it connects us to the past, it creates a context that is a bit anachronistic in the modern world, but that’s also the appeal of it. We want to do this because it’s part of a heritage and a tradition that people are missing in a modern world where everything changes all the time. Historical European Martial arts are those fighting systems, those martial arts forms to use a word to define itself, which originated or were widely practiced in Europe at some point, that historical period for us usually means Victorian Era backwards. Manciolino, in 1531 makes a distinction between salle play and a fight with sharps. For a fight with sharps he says, keep your point out and snipe the hands basically is his advice. Pretty much like I.33. There’s a remarkable European literature on how to fight from about 1300s onward right into the 20th century we have people writing books on how to fight. Dozens and dozens of books over the course of several centuries throughout Europe. Some of these arts have died out, some of them have evolved into other things the modern sport of fencing, the modern sport of boxing are the direct descendants of these martial arts, but they’re not practiced as they were back in the day.
– In sports fencing, when your coach gives you a technique to practice, you practice that technique and he got it from his coach and this goes all the way back to when the art was created or over time it evolves and changes but you know you’ve got it right because your coach tells you to do it and he says “yes, you’ve got it right” and that doesn’t happen in HEMA, or at least in first generation HEMA that hasn’t happened because we’ve got a source material and we’ve got nobody that’s able to say “This is how the technique is done.” At its core it’s the reconstruction of European martial arts through source material. The research and study of the old manuscripts, and the application through drilling, technique training, sparring, and competition. It’s a very very large term that often gets caught up with swordplay because that’s the most prominent and common aspect of it but it’s an enormous, enormous umbrella. HEMA covers so many different weapons I don’t even know that we can really reasonably put all of HEMA into a box. There are unarmed forms, we have grappling and wrestling forms, we have grappling and wrestling forms that intersect with weapons forms. We have weapons forms that existed just a few hundred years ago and may have been practiced as late as our great grandparents, and we have forms that go back hundreds of years. Generally speaking, we have HEMA starting with the Antiquity. We have friends who do gladiatorial combat, for instance. You’re looking at weapon sets such as sword and buckler and then longsword, in the earliest periods wrestling, use of the dagger against the dagger, or unarmed against dagger. Use of pole weapons such as spears, halberds, poleaxes, and then, as the swords develop through sidesword into rapier and then from rapier into smallsword. In that same period you start to see sabre and backsword come in as well. And of course there’s mounted combat all through that period as well. There’s such variety that everyone finds something that appeals to them. The level of variety that you see in the martial arts that people know about today, that’s the same level of variety that really is available for weapons as well. This kind of sword is called a Montante. It comes from Spain and Portugal and Iberia in general. You also find swords like it in Italy and elsewhere throughout Europe. The style that’s used with to quote Silver is that it’s used very much like a short staff. Its tradition is a little different from a lot of the Germanic traditions in that it deals quite often with a lot of simple strikes and fighting against multiple opponents, with
an emphasis on solo drills rather than “attack, defend, attack, defend, attack, defend” because of the unsafeliness of even a blunt version of this weapon. Forward Back Back Back, Sit down. The Montante was used by frontline combatants, marians, people protecting other people and generally any situation where someone found they’d be at a disadvantage in fighting against multiple opponents. Which is part of why it was developed actually is that in Spain during the Reconquista, one of the biggest problems they had was that the armies of the Moors outnumbered the Spanish and Portuguese so much. So developing systems of combat that were useful against multiple opponents was a very big problem. Today right now maybe there are fewer of them that are actually practiced and that has different explanations. There is more source material
about some weapons than about others but it’s also just about hype and popularity. Within HEMA it seems that more people practice longsword than any other art. The longsword is the main weapon of that period and a sign of honour and courage and chivalry if you want. This is the reason why people are interested in HEMA to begin with, I think. It’s that we live in modern times and in modern times, we change everything all the time. Like there’s always the latest thing that you need, the new iPhone, the new whatever it is. And we do that by discarding everything that is old, in a way. So, when we’ve discarded that, we tend to feel a bit rootless. And I think that is part of the reason why so many people are interested in HEMA because there is a link that ties us together with our ancestors through these sources you can read these manuscripts and
old texts and hear the voices of old fencing masters. And it also is a manifestation of a different type of society, with other values where honour and courage and so on are very important aspects of everyone’s lives. As we progress and find new material and we interpret that and put it out to be available for the public and people pick up this material and run with it and start practicing and become more efficient at it you will see other weapon systems gaining in popularity. Which is one of the really really exciting things, the idea that maybe one day I will actually learn how to be a good sickle fighter. That’d be pretty awesome. What we have in the sources is a differentiation between fighting with armour and fighting without armour. Not speaking of very specific techniques or very specific sources but we have mention in several manuscripts of “This technique might not work if your opponent has armour” or “This technique works better against armour”. So the differences between armoured and non-armoured combat… some of is weapon. Armour worked, that’s what it was built for, it was built to keep people from stabbing or chopping you into pieces. You can hit my armour… as hard as you want, all day long with a sharp sword. And, when you’re studying an art that focuses on stabbing people and chopping them into pieces you have to find some way to win that arms race. So, in some cases it was done with things like poleaxes. So we see, within the German sources, the poleaxe, or for that matter the Italian sources, as a weapon used to kill a guy who was wearing armour and there’s folks out there who spend a lot of time focussing on that and those materials on that technique, learning to do that effectively. If you’re just looking at a longsword, and how does a guy with a longsword fight a guy in armour. We have a series of techniques generally called Harnischfechten, “Harness Fighting”, right, armoured fighting, which includes stuff like halfswording, or “the armoured hand” which is to grab your sword’s blade somewhere halfway along the blade, hand on top of sharp blade, glove or no glove, whatever. And then to use it essentially as a very small spear and we begin to see overlap with poleaxe techniques in hooking and otherwise using the weapon as an object not just to stab and chop your opponent but to manhandle your opponent, so that you can create an opening in a place where the armour is weak, maybe in the armpit or in the elbow or deep inside the gauntlet, and work that point in there and then drive it in to cause some kind of damage to your opponent. Grandy attempting to get into that bicep again. Charrette’s not giving any space. Attempt at a wrench over with the pommel… and the point went in. Looks like it went underneath the right armpit, it also pulled his mail out… It’s a little bit like jujitsu, it’s a little bit like grappling, it’s about position before submission, working yourself into a place where you can get that
point right where it needs to be, driving it in and then, really sinking into that advantage. Incidentally, in the armoured section of the medieval wrestling corpus, is where we have all of the ground work. So, medieval ground wrestling, is armoured wrestling. The reason being, often, armoured encounters would be encounters to the death. You basically had to follow it through unless somebody gave up, but generally not, so we have quite a few number of pins, a number of locks, a number of ways to hold a man down, so that you can draw your or his dagger and try to get at him in his amour once he’s on the ground underneath you. It’s something that operates, while philosophically perhaps similar to Bloßfechten or unarmoured fighting, mechanically it works very differently. It looks nothing like the armoured combat that we see in shows or on television or any other kind of place. It looks, to the untrained eye I think probably a bit more like a brawl and to the trained eye it looks like something infinitely less like a brawl than what we might see on our favourite television shows. A lot of prejudices about historical combat, a lot of misconceptions, come from film and at the same time, film is the reason I think why a lot of people started with HEMA, because they were inspired by seeing the sword on the screen. The age old conflict between fighting for effectiveness and fighting for story, it’s so hard to get both right at the same time. The film makers lack the knowledge and the form language to make their actors look like convincing fighters. So they will often use camera tricks and editing tricks to make the fight scene look violent. But it doesn’t necessarily make a very compelling action scene. This is what a lot of HEMA people see as bad, that you don’t really see the fighter in the actor, you see an actor with a sword. If you look at the lightsabre fights in Star Wars, the sequence is purely aesthetic. It’s a collection of well-choreographed moves, it’s more of a dance than that is a fight. You can actually see that there is no real sense of danger. The problem in a fight is, a lot of it is about feel and when you’re showing somebody a fight, you have to exaggerate. But if you’re exaggerating in a fight, you’re showing
your enemy what you’re gonna do so the two don’t go well together. Noorderwind is a Historical European Martial Arts club which focuses on combining HEMA
and authentic historical fighting systems with entertainment such as live show and film. So what you see in other kind of movies like Asian martial arts films, there is great aesthetic quality to the way they fight because there is a fighting system there and the performers are very well trained in that system. HEMA has this form language, has this innate beauty and this is what, at Noorderwind, we try to achieve. Even though people are not looking for HEMA coordinators or HEMA choreographers per se, once you are at apposition in which you can call the shots as a HEMA person, then you can sneak HEMA in. Taking something from a source into real life into a training environment is really gonna be about experimentation. I think it’s really important to think about this as an evolving, iterative process. First you have to choose, are you going to have that manual translated into your language or are you going to learn that language yourself, unless you’re already a native speaker. But even if you’re a native speaker, it’s not easy for you to read your own language when it’s 500 years old. Step number 2 is trying to understand what the author means, understanding key phrases because a lot of times there is a specific fencing vocabulary that this author is using. You’re gonna get together with a training partner and work together to try to make what you’ve just read happen. And I think that is very important to really work with it, do something and then talk about it: “OK, well, that isn’t what the master described,
so how did we mess this up”. So you have to go back to the beginning, start again and just keep going until you think that you’ve found something that works. You’re never given all the information. Sometimes, you’re assisted with pictures or illustrations, sometimes not. Usually, we have text, but sometimes not. So you have to try to take what you’re given, and turn it into something useful, for example: a certain kind of cut might be described as coming from a certain place, perhaps from the right shoulder that it comes from above. The text might say which edge to use, and it might describe the end result: you’re trying to hit the person in the head. But what it does not tell you, is how to get from here, to there. There’s places that we have to be speculative, there’s places where we have to try out different theories and different ideas and see how well they fit the sources. It’s very difficult once you’ve built a model that works 90% of the way and then you find out what the rest of the 10% of this way you thought this technique was gonna work doesn’t really work at all, being able to go back, repeatedly and continue to evolve your ideas on how some these techniques work. I think another thing that is important to me, is the willingness to go back and say: “Guess what, we were wrong, we have a better way”. One exemple of changes in how we see things is the reversed grip, for example. We had all these images where people are holding the swords with this types of positions. We didn’t know what they meant, we thought they were really crappy at drawing hands. But that’s probably not the case. And the funny thing about that is that once you understand that you can reverse the hands, that you can use different hand positions, it changes a lot of interpretations. I have one interpretation where it says you put your hands in front of your face, and I just thought like it was like you were holding it like this but when I changed the technique, I realised it was actually holding it like this in this position which opened up entirely new ways of using the sword when parrying and so on. So you have the data and you build a model, and you really need to test that model, and this is why things like tournaments and sparring are really important, from my perspective. It’s this balance between the practice of it, trying to understand what seems to work what doesn’t work, and then going back to the data and saying “OK well, here’s what my practical experience says, this is my theoretical understanding, where’s the mismatch?” Either you’re doing the technique wrong, or your partner is giving you a pressure which is incorrect for that move so is that pressure then able to be corrected by another technique? That fallibility in you and your partner eventually leads to you understanding the system more fully. But then you need to be able to apply it as well and not all manuals have instructions on how to train. Fiore has this habit sometimes of not really telling you what to do but just telling you how awesome it’ll be if you pull it off. The Historical European Martial Arts sources, I would say, roughly divide into treatises and manuals. A treatise being essentially an advanced written study on a topic which the reader is already expected to know something about. Here’s your text book, here’s your lesson, here’s how you remember to do all the stuff that you paid me to teach you how to do. Whereas, if we take at the other end of the spectrum a WWI bayonet manual, that is really written for teaching soldiers who know nothing about bayonet fighting. These books came from as many different kinds of people as there were books. They weren’t just written by knights, they weren’t just written by commoners, they weren’t just written by masters. Some of these where written by men like Agrippa who were not masters at all, but perhaps just talented fencers that had a method of fencing they wanted to share. We have Joachim Meyer who writes his thorough description of the knightly art of combat, He writes this for a general audience, but it helped get him a job as a fencing master for a duke. Medieval treatises were made for a wide range of different reasons. sometimes just to document a system, as a record, for an archive, almost for personal use. We know sometimes it was written as a form of advertising, sometimes as a status symbol. That was very common, the very rich and the highest in society, had their own swords masters and they created a work, almost as an expression of wealth, in the same that today you’d have a yacht. Even through the 15th and 16th Centuries we see a wide range of reasons, why treatises and early manuals were created and also a gradual evolution of the reason for them being created. You have to understand that the people who could afford that source material were already at a certain level of society. They’re not the people who are gonna be chopping up fish to sell. They’re not the people who are gonna be, trying to fight their way in the slums in order to live. And ironically, those people were probably engaged in more fighting and more violence than the people the books were aimed at. So, understanding the surrounding culture to the source material is just as important as understanding the material itself. So a master that’s more focused on school play will give different advice than a master that’s focused on self-defence. You got the two books of Giganti, his first book is very nice, fencing in the line, his second book is defending yourself against multiple opponents, dagger against spear, grapples, pommel strikes. And so very much like the modern HEMA context, where it’s very libertarian in nature, everybody has a voice, everybody has an opinion, everybody gets to throw out what it is that they think is right. A lot of these fight books came from the same place. They came from historical
masters or would-be masters, throwing out their ideas about fencing in written format hopefully for people that were paying for them or that were gonna be able to use them. And even that isn’t the kind of thing I can really tell you is what happened. We don’t know. What we do know is that they were kind enough to write all this down for us and to let us argue about it on the Internet incessantly for the next hundred years. It’s very hard to simulate a sharp sword in a fight, because sharp swords were designed to hurt people and kill them and cut them open in all kinds of awful and horrible ways. We don’t want to do that in the club, we like our training partners. We wanna go home and live to fight another day with them so to simulate the thing that we are training for in a safe way is a huge challenge. The most common weapon used is the steel feder or the steel blunt. Feder is a modern name for it but a steel blunt practice sword that has safe rounded edges and flex to it so you can thrust. That is what most people use across all weapon disciplines. But if you have a big club with a lot of beginners they might not be able to afford a steel weapon immediately or they are unsure if they are willing to dedicate themselves for some reason you loan them weapons then if nylon or plastic weapons are available to them then that’s excellent. We didn’t have a way as a community of introducing new people quickly and cheaply into the art which is how ultimately it was gonna grow, it was by saying “Look you don’t need to go out and buy a specialist steel sword, you can have something which will allow you to practice.” The Rawlings range came about through me phoning up lots and lots and lots of different manufacturers, anybody who had an interest in re-enactment, anyone who could supply weaponry. And it serves its purpose. Most of us move directly from those on to steel or on to things like Blackfencer or things like this. In my opinion you want to progress to steel weapons as quickly as you can. I think there is a lot of value in that, partly because they handle better, but also partly because you’re doing fencing and that should be done with a weapon that is approximately the real deal. So there an identity thing to working with steel weapons as well. I’ve been blessed with many occasions to go through handling sessions with originals. I try to not exactly copy the shape of the originals but I want to copy the feel of the originals. For creating a safe blade to fence with, we need to adjust a few things: we need thicker edges, we need flexibility, we need a button on the tip, all of these will alter a little bit the geometry of the blade so if I copy the exact measures of an original and I add those features for safe sparring it will probably not give you the same feeling of the original. This is the lost second book of Niccoletto Giganti. Niccoletto Giganti is one of the most celebrated Italian fencing masters Italian rapier masters of the early 17th Century. His first book of 1606 was very well known and very widely distributed and celebrated for centuries afterwards as one of the most clearest, most concise representations of the Italian method. In his first book he’d promised to write a second but for centuries it was unclear if this had ever taken place. In fact as early as 1673, a Sicilian master, Pallavicini, in bringing out his own second book, essentially derides Giganti by saying “I didn’t promise to bring out a second book, but here it is, unlike people like Giganti who promise a second book but never deliver.” So, you know, not even 70 years after the publication of Giganti’s first book, his second book was already regarded as mythical. New sources are still being found, and they’re being found from a variety of places. In the early days of this reconstruction, early modern days I should say, they were largely found in museum collections, and that is still an ongoing process. many museums have a lot of information still not even catalogued much less, available to the public. I had when I started out when I was a teenager this idea about famous researchers of today like Matt Galas and Steve Hick and many before them as well, Hans-Peter Hils and so on, walking with a torch down in catacombs and finding these dusty old manuals. And I’m sure that also happens. Fortunately, a lot of museums, for reasons of preservation and various other things are putting more of their information online. A lot of the times you find these manuals just by typing different spelling variations of key phrases in Google Books. Which makes it accessible to more researchers rather than just the 2 or 3 that can get to the museum and have the language skills and so on. The Internet has really changed research in a dramatic way and largely for the positive. There are genuine researchers who find new material who make new discoveries about existing material. Guys like Matt Galas, Piermarco Terminiello… These guys are actual researchers doing original research which is very valuable. Then you have guys like Michael Chidester and the crew over at Wiktenauer, who are not necessarily doing research but they’re making the material available to us which is infinitely valuable, like the most valuable thing that could happen to us after the initial research itself. Wiktenauer’s purpose these days is to try to bring together all of the source materials that we study especially for the martial arts from the 15th and 16th centuries and before. When I was starting HEMA 13 years ago it was very difficult to access all the source materials. There were few resources scattered online they were hard to find, there were a few books that were rather expensive. By and large if you wanted to study something, you had to begin from scratch and work it out yourself. So Wiktenauer exists to try and alleviate that entire problem and create one source where you can go and find out everything that you need to know about a particular treatise or particular master to begin your study and you can branch out from there, but as far as locating the source materials getting them transcribed and translated and making them available, we’re trying to take care of that problem forever and have it done so that the next generation of sword fighters won’t have to go through those problems. The study of HEMA has evolved over the years. I think people have become much smarter and much more creative in looking at other sort of supporting sources and data to try to get more information about the relevant context for how these techniques work. Like statues, for example, how they portray fighting if that’s the case or just depictions of fighting in another sources than martial arts sources to complete the picture. I had a researcher who was here a year and a half ago who was looking at a painting and was looking at St George on a horse and just how his body was absolutely unified with the horse and he said, based on his equitarian researches, that’s exactly the pose he should have been in order to power a blow. So it’s out there in a lot of ways and often you don’t know it’s there until you stumble across it. Fast forward to the Howard de Walden collection, which itself has an interesting history because Howard de Walden at the beginning of the 20th Century, was a great collector of fencing books. When he died he passed it onto his heirs and essentially, this great collection of fencing books got stuck in a barn in one of the home counties, and it was only rediscovered again a few decades ago. It’s now on a permanent, or semi-permanent loan at the Wallace. A couple of years ago, the Wallace Collection had an exhibition, The Noble Art of the Sword. A chap called Joshua Pendragon was this assistant curator. He gave a link to a list of works that were in the Wallace Collection and I started e-mailing him because there was some interesting stuff in there. And then we started saying “Hang on, on this list of the holdings, there’s a reference to Giganti 1608”. Now, there’s a couple of fencing bibliographies over the centuries that list a Giganti 1608 as a reprint of the 1606, which, in itself isn’t that interesting because fencing books get reprinted all the time. However, we were aware that Marchionni in 1847 makes some quite specific claims about what’s in Giganti’s second book. One day I happened to be here, there was a day with guest lectures about various subjects relating to the sword and I was like “Can we have a look at the Howard de Walden collection?” and the staff were like “Yeah sure, it’s just there”, pointing to a filing cabinet. We opened it up and immediately, as you start flicking through the pages you see that it’s different stuff to his first book, and you see the cutting, and you see the buckler, the dagger, dagger angainst spear. We knew immediately it was the second book that had only be rumoured to exist. Within fencing circles no one had ascertained that it existed until that point. Novati gave us a facsimile in 1902, Francesco Novati. Unfortunately it’s hard to say how accurate this facsimile is because some arts critics have looked at it and said that it looks like a 19-20th Century redrawing of a medieval manuscript more than it looks like a medieval manuscript, so until we get those scans of the original, we won’t know how reliable these pictures are. One of the questions that comes up a lot is how do we know that these masters had any idea what they were doing? The most honest answer? is we don’t. There’s a myth among some of the HEMA practitioners that because a source is older it is somehow more authentic or more authoritative and that’s not necessarily true. Kinda goes hand in hand with that is this idea that just because it was written down in the past means that it’s an unquestionable source which again is not always true. There were bad fencers in the past just as there are bad fencers today. When we’re attempting to interpret a manuscript you kinda have to start from an assumption that the person that wrote it knew what they were talking about and obviously we’ve got no way of knowing that until we’ve got it to work or not, as the case may be. To stand any chance of coming away with a workable system, you have to make the assumption that they’re right but you need to be aware that you’ve made that assumption so that you can at least the objective about it. We don’t know that they knew what they were doing but we have some evidence that they did. I mentioned Fiore earlier, an Italian swords master, claims to have fought I believe 5 duels, wearing nothing gloves and his sword and came away “unashamed”. I don’t know if that means he killed 5 men, I don’t know if that means he managed not to get hit. We don’t know exactly what that means, well at least I don’t but we have indications that this guy was real that his students were real people and we have some records of some of his more famous students. Prior to books being printed, those were expensive projects so getting the funding from those usually came from a patron of some type or so on. As a general rule we tend to think that the patrons were getting the better quality guys, but there’s no way to prove that definitively. Politics and rubbing shoulders was always going on. Masters disagree with each other all the time. To take the most obvious example, the English polemicist George Silver wrote his rant saying how Italian fencing was useless and they got each other killed. A lot of his specific claims that Italians never cut are just simply untrue if you look at the treatises. By looking at the specific areas where people disagree, you actually get a lot of insight into, whether
this master has misunderstood one point of it or it makes you think about the fine tactical points like cut versus thrust. I can find examples like Camillo Palladini whose manuscript rests in the Wallace Collection here. He agrees with George Silver, he says “some people say the cut is slow but on many occasions in front of great lords I’ve asked fencers to thrust at my face and each time I’ve been able to cut them before they thrust me. His explanation is that he can move his wrist quicker than someone can move his foot which is something that George Silver might have said. So actually, by looking deep into the scholarship, a lot of these apparent contradictions wash away. We know that Liechtenauer is quoted for about 200 years after he’s dead, that fencing students and teachers continued to believe that what was taught by Liechtenauer and by Lichtenauer’s students was valuable. And what I see and what I have seen over the last 15 years as I have progressed through this, is that the historical techniques work. They work in a competitive context, they work in a casual “fence with your buddies in the training school” kind of context and I have no reason to believe that they would not work in a life or death mortal context assuming that the technique is performed correctly, with the right amount of intensity and the right amount of intent by someone who knows what they’re doing and uses that technique within its correct context. And that, becomes the whole martial art: What is the technique? How do I do it? When do I use it? And if you can bring those pieces together these techniques work and I think that’s how we know the masters knew
what they were talking about because we do it now. I do a lot of modern wrestling as well and what for me to me is very sad about modern wrestling systems is that they’ve been very sportified and a lot of the techniques are based on rules that don’t make any actual sense. And when you go back to the historical sources, you get a whole other perspective, a much more true perspective if you will, of what Wrestling is actually about. Swords are sexy and most people are attracted to HEMA to do the longsword. It’s big, it’s cool, it’s fast, it’s hard but medieval sources tell us that all fighting comes from wrestling. It is a good question: if you have a sword, why wrestle? And the answer is because when you come close enough to each other you are now in wrestling distance despite the fact that you have a sword. There are optimal distances to apply various sets of knowledge. In particular what I study is the German system that’s based off of Johannes Liechtenauer’s writings. And we are admonished over and over to attack whatever openings our opponent gives us. And so the wrestling curriculum gives us another opportunity, another way to attack those openings to take the moments that are given to us. It’s in the wrestling that you learn how to exploit Fühlen, feeling between opponents. It’s in wrestling that you learn how if he pushes to pull, if he pulls to push and all of these things translate immediately up to when swords cross. And that way all of the lessons from all of our weapons apply to wrestling and vice versa. It really is the universal translator between weaponry. For instance when two longsword fighters come close, one may remove his left hand and try to use the pommel to hit his opponent. A medieval person would see that as wrestling. And in fact a lot of the plays that get used for the hilt and the pommel of the sword are dagger plays. It’s basically about, in the end taking control of your opponent and being able to manipulate your own and your opponent’s balance in a way that it gains you an advantage. Medieval wrestling is primarily a stand up jacket wrestling system so it involves gripping onto the clothing that your opponent is wearing and likewise your opponent is gripping onto your clothing and you can use these to leverage your opponent, to throw them, to trip them, maybe to break limbs if necessary depending on the on the particular contest or even life and death situation the wrestling might be used in. Wrestling in medieval idea really encompassed not only the sport of wrestling but also self-defence on the street. So you might find yourself wrestling with no weapons or wrestling with weapons, but the same techniques apply. If you had to look for a modern analogue that would be the closest thing you might look to maybe even Japanese Judo surprisingly, for many people but again it’s a stand-up jacketed system. The sporting contests that we know about in medieval wrestling, how they competed friendly with each other in wrestling was to the throw. They didn’t roll on the ground very much, there wasn’t pins, not submissions not chokes. They saved that for serious encounters. In play, it was to the throw. and they counted a throw very simply: just anything but the foot knees or hands touching the ground. If you deposited someone on the rear end, that’s a throw! If you don’t practice with a sharp sword, if you don’t ever test cut you’re going to miss facets of what it means. You’re going to miss out on conclusions that you could have made if you trained with sharp swords. Sharp weapons are good for doing solo drills, to test cut and you can work with partner drills with sharps as well with someone that you really trust, but you really need to trust that person. At the New York Historical Fencing Association we actually train for… although it’s kind of unrealistic we’re training with the idea that you if we’re in a position where we need these swords to protect our lives or to take the life of someone else, we want to make sure that we’re using it in such a way that every motion is effective, whether it’s cutting or thrusting. If you fence with sharp swords you’re going to realize that sharp edges cut into each other so they stick like this. A blunt edge, like this, will slide, a sharp edge doesn’t. It cuts into the other edge. When you’re training it’s important to have all these different tools because if you doing a bind where two swords come together and are gripping each other and the tension and feedback from that play is vital to understanding the next move, if you’re using something that’s a slippery edge training weapon, like a nylon waster or a wooden waster it’s not gonna give you the same experience and it’ll distort your understanding. You don’t have to train every day with a sharp sword, but you need to train with a sharp sword from time to time to get a grasp of these things. It’ll change the way you grip the sword, it’ll change the strength to put into your strikes because you’re not trying to beat somebody with a sword, you’re trying to cut and slide across the exposed areas. You look at bad examples of fighting like for example in a lot of computer games and you see these big heroic warriors pulling this enormous sword out of their… back and slamming it down upon the metal of their opponents. It’s completely ineffective so why are you going to smash your beautiful expensive weapon against somebody’s armour when you could take it and cut it across something that’s exposed Even just something that simple, you wouldn’t understand that if you didn’t know how a cutting edged weapon worked. Probably the best way to sum it up is to say that there is no perfect HEMA training tool, for any weapon. There is always the trade-off between safety versus what is the most realistic training tool. The better way to think about it is what are the best training approaches to get everybody all these different skillsets they ultimately would like to have and then how does the equipment fit in. In terms of the modern HEMA revival, the first point to make is that people have been looking at earlier styles of fencing for a long time, for example another master, Costantino Calleroni, quotes Marozzo. A guy from 1711 who’s completely different to a book published in 1536, is conscious of the names of these historical masters. Into the beginning of the 19th Century we have Belgian guilds still practicing with longswords, so long after longswords were obsolete in civilian life and in the battlefield, people were still using them for Fechtshüle sport essentially. Fast forward into the early 20th Century we have the first kind of attempt at a HEMA revival. We have guys like Hutton, guys like Gelli in Italy. It didn’t continue but I wouldn’t say it was unsuccessful. I guess the First World War disrupted a lot of Europe and that generation of early HEMAists seem to have fizzled out around the 20’s. In 1981, I went to my local library and I kid you not, I did an interlibrary loan request for medieval fencing manuals. And out of the blue I got a copy of the 1965 transcription of Sigmund Ringeck, by a guy named Martin Wierschin who was a German who transcribed that fencing manual. And I self-taught so that I could read a Sigmund Ringeck’s fencing manual. And that was how it started for me so by about 1982, I was able to understand at about the 90% point what I was reading in that manual. Not to say that was doing the techniques correctly, but I could read it, I could understand it and I started working on it then. The interesting thing at point that was way pre-Internet and so I was working on that completely in isolation. In the early days of the Historical European Martial Arts community, the HEMA community, we were all self-taught. We were all looking for something and so… Who was that earliest teacher? That earlier teacher was a book and the backyard and a wooden stick and getting hit upside the head by a friend. We began to seek out people who knew a little bit more, some of the early teachers but even then in that time what was really going on is that you had someone who knew more or claimed to know more who was able to guide you. But when it really came down to interpretation, we were on our own. So initially who taught me to fence was a little bit of John Clements, a little bit of the Internet, a little bit of Christian Tobler a lot of self-study and getting hit upside the head with a stick that you didn’t wanna get hit with because we were too dumb to wear masks back then. The whole time you advance you need to keep this posture. Don’t stand up, don’t lean back. It’s very common to get you posture straight and then “Oh God, here’s the tip, here’s the tip here’s the tip”. That’s really bad, don’t do that. We see so many people who have trained under teachers who have never needed to go through that same process of discovery that there’s a fear, maybe a legitimate fear in the community that that attachment to the source is getting lost or could get lost. I think HEMA can be done without reading the sources, translated copy but I don’t think it can be done to the best. I don’t think every HEMA practitioner needs to do research. I do think every HEMA practitioner needs to be educated about the sources. We need to make sure that our students know that the master isn’t the guy up in front of the classroom, the master’s the guy who wrote the stuff down. Even if your interpretations differ from somebody else’s interpretation, you’re still at least informed by somebody who really used these arts and there’s no more people like that alive so we have to learn it from the sources. How do we do our HEMA? We do our HEMA the way the master said to do the HEMA. The big question is: how did the master say to do the HEMA? Sticking to the source is important, it has to be kept in mind. I’m not saying it’s a sin, being tempted to stray from the source. If you stray too far, you’re losing the H in HEMA, maybe the E even, you’re just doing something new, something else, something different. If we’re all learning from somebody else, what we’re learning is a modern sword art based on historical sources. What we want to be doing is constantly getting closer to the way that it was done and discovering the way it was done is part of that path. And if you haven’t read the material, if you aren’t intimately familiar the material, you can’t be on that path. The Third Master of dagger. Here’s a comparison of the images. I think it’s a pretty safe bet they’re probably doing the same thing. I mean I can’t be 100% sure. What Fiore says is “You’ll go to the ground because of your lack of knowledge and in armour this is a particularly safe throw” and then basically talks about how this is an awesome throw and it will throw you on the ground a whole lot, and you’ll be totally dead. Basically this whole paragraph says nothing at all about how the technique is done. Then we go over to the German stuff and not only does it gives us a whole huge paragraph where he explains how many steps to take and where to take them and gives you a whole huge explanation of the exact mechanics of the throw. It is an old debate: should we study one manuscript and stick to it as a canon? Or should we try to have more of a holistic approach and work with several manuscripts, and it all comes down to your own goal. Some people like to work with only one manuscript, because they want to try to recreate that specific style or art, let’s say, for example you want to work only with the Achille Marrozzo, from the Bolognese school. While other want to become efficient fighters with a specific weapon and then they draw from a number of varied sources, everything that they think can enhance their own skill or/and knowledge. When I fight I like winning, so I draw on whatever I think is appropriate to that time. I really prefer to get my techniques out of as many different treatises as possible and then choose the ones that adapt better to my body type, and to my skillset, and to my strengths. So even if you’re perhaps a doing a different style of backsword or sabre or longsword or anything else you can still apply those different lessons back to your own fighting. Some systems are more compatible than others, for example, if you study 19th Century sabre, if you look across Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, all of the sabre sources from the 19th Century share a lot of similarities. Many of them are very modern in how they’re written and it’s maybe possible to understand Hope only by reading Hope, I would assume. However there are some systems which are really quite a bit more different. For example if you look at I.33 sword and buckler and you look at Marozzo sword and buckler or Bolognese sword and buckler, they’re quite different. They stand differently, they hold the buckler differently, they cut in different ways, they deal with attacks in quite fundamentally different ways. So you could mix Marozzo from the 16th Century and I.33 from the late 13th Century, but I don’t think they would necessarily go together very well as a system. As for the historical integrity of it, that’s a personal choice. Obviously if you want to recreate the fencing style of a certain place and period, then you stick to the sources of that place and period. Notice we’re not stepping. I’m actually looking into his eyes now. And this is what happens when I come too quickly. I’m actually underneath his sword. I have always found every club that I visited to be very welcoming and excited and interested, because the sharing of knowledge is what is the lifeblood in HEMA. The HEMA community is very open source. That means a lot of things. One is that there are very few professionals in what we do. This is mostly an amateur community. And the way to get credibility and respect in that community is by sharing your information. These days we can to YouTube videos and actually show what we’re talking about as well, which can make it a lot clearer because we’re talking about a physical topic, so it helps to illustrate the points that we make online. And they get discussed, debated, questioned, peer reviewed basically, by the rest of the community. But Internet is a communication tool that can only take you so far. There’s nothing quite like actually being in person with someone and having them quickly walk you through something that you spent months over the Internet trying to explain and being able to very quickly go back and forth and exchange ideas again that’s that’s a hugely valuable thing. We have huge number of events which is weekend or long weekends of workshops, lectures and classes on how to do these things and tournaments. One of the great things about martial arts events like Fightcamp, especially for people who do things that are quite fringe, like European Martial Arts, is that you get to learn from different instructors who would actually have slightly different interpretations to each other. Some of my favourite discussions with people over HEMA have been very very heated, going: “NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, there’s no way that this can work, absolutely, you’re completely and utterly wrong, you’re absolutely wrong. You could not be more wrong if you had a hat with wrong written all over it and you tattooed ‘wrong’ on your face.” And then you go away and quietly when you’re sitting on the train and going away from the event or you’re going away from someone else’s house, you end up giving them a text or you end of giving then an e-mail going “You know what? That principle you said, that actually works if you put it in this context” and quite often they’ll go “You know what you were saying? That works”. So even when we are at each other’s throats if we’re biting or freely exchanging information, the information does get transferred and I think even quite often if we don’t want to admit it we still always learn from whatever someone else has said. But then we also have have these events as a way to bring the community closer, establish bonds between people face to face in order to bring in beginners so that they can see this wonderful community that we have, take the opportunity to do beginner’s classes and maybe try out some weapons styles that they’re not practicing regularly at home in their own club. For me, my perspective has always been that these major events have been the real engine, behind the HEMA community. These events will continue to grow and hopefully be a really good nexus for people to come and learn, not only learn what it’s about but for the people who’ve been doing it for quite some time also remind them what it is that they really love about all this. What I am worried about is making sure that you all have the shoulder strength and forearm strength, to be able to hold the weapon out. so that you can perform the correct technique, alright? So for that reason, we’re not gonna engage or hips or feet like we would if we’d cut for real. This is just essentially an arms, shoulder, back, core kind of exercise. We live in the 21st Century but the art was written at a time where people were much more physically active as a general rule. And if they had access to a proper diet that were in good shape. So we can argue about if we should practice with 15th Century shoes or 21st Century shoes but we should also consider if we should actually try to train with a 15th Century body. Basically it means that you have to work out. It kinda goes back to goals. If the aim of the club is just to explore the martial arts and walk through it and they don’t fence much or when they fence, they fence very lightly, fitness is not so much an important factor. But for those clubs who are more interested in say, competitions, fitness will become an issue. There are very few sports as active as ours that do not incorporate physical training, so it’s a non-issue for me really. Fitness is just a tool. It’s not a matter of being fit or being sharp, it’s a matter of knowing what your body can do. The more you know your body and the more your body can do, the better a martial artist you can be. One of the great things with HEMA, especially sword fighting is that you don’t really have to be young and fit and sharp and tall and muscular. This technicality of sword fighting means that you can be old, but still know all the tricks, and perform quite well. So, I think for somebody who perhaps doesn’t feel very comfortable in their body, learning to fight with weaponry is a great way to go because it takes the focus off you, it extends the force that you can create and it gets you moving and anytime you move, you become more in your body so it’s a good feedback cycle. Remember what we do is martial arts, and you eventually get hurt sometimes. It’s not the goal, it’s not the aim, it’s not the joy of doing HEMA, but it happens so you need to, in order to also make this physical knowledge yours, do think of your own safety and the safety of your partners. We do have manufacturers now who are actually looking to produce gear for us which is a huge boost. When I started up 12 years ago when I was 17, we had old fencing masks, welding gloves and sticks, basically. It worked at the time, but as the community grows and we become more and more professional we also see manufacturers either from outside of the HEMA community take an interest what we do and wanting to provide gear for us or actual practitioners starting their own companies which I think is the best idea because they know what a fencer needs. We need equipment that can keep people safe and this is growing, the interest is there and the people who need the equipment, they’re asking for it. The market won’t grow to its potential until the safety equipment is there. Mothers are not gonna be eager to bring their children to get into this program if… broken arms and legs are a monthly occurrence. Hands are among the most common injuries, like 80% of the injuries in HEMA are hand-related and everyone knows in daily life how frustrating or complex it is if you break a finger. And my biggest concern is of course if a blade breaks and it penetrates the body because that can be the end for someone. That’s the scary one. Our blades have blunted tips and usually there’s tape on the tips and a variety of things that keep it that would be very difficult to penetrate one of our jackets The concern always is in that broken blade situation, the rare freak occurrence that were to happen and then a thrust would follow through. You can see the gear check is getting more and more seriously done. Like first “I’ll wear something over here” and then “No you should wear something that prevents a thrust if the sword breaks, to penetrate.” The thing we must remember in designing equipment, is the style of fencing we are simulating that is not armoured fencing, it is Bloßfechten, or fencing without any protection on. It’s kind of a fine balance because every time you wear something as protection, it does change the way your body moves. It’s just part of the way things are. You’re going to move differently in sports gear than you are if you’re not wearing it. So, simulating an unarmoured fight, but still wearing protection because you don’t want to blow out your knees or have your hands smashed up, it’s a massive challenge. From the feedback, we always hear “oh, it’s very nice, but can it be more flexible, can it be lighter?” This is the hardest part of the development phase. Right now we have two things going on: the tournament scene is really increasing in popularity, but you also have people training the real techniques and a lot of hybrids, let’s be honest but if you’re training the real techniques, you should be able to train without gear or with the least restraining gear because otherwise you cannot really interpret the real techniques if you’re limited by gear. But if you don’t use any gear in training and then suddenly you want to do a tournament then you feel the restrictions, so you won’t be able to use the techniques you have been training and I think that is what a lot of people aspire to. And normally your sword should keep you safe and what we see is lot of gear prevents you to wield your sword to the extreme positions you want to go to and because of that you do get hit in the hand when normally you wouldn’t get hit. So the protection makes sure you need the protection because you cannot use your sword to protect yourself. I’d go into a sporting goods store I just went in to get new knee pads and I said “OK so look this is what I’m doing I’m gonna be getting hit with a longsword and the knee pads I have, they gape open at the top and they can just cut down into them, I need something that straps better.” And people were looking at me with these eyes like “Well I don’t know what you need.” We’re still trying to get the best thing that will work when what we need, is the best thing that’s made for it. Some products are basically identical like the fencing mask or chest protectors, for example. Some products are similar but needed to be modified and there are of course equipment which are only used in HEMA. One very important gear is the neck protector which not only protects the neck but also the collar bones. The next one, which is also very important is the back of the head protector which protects the back of the head, back of the neck. One very crucial part is the hand, which needs to be protected and… we’ve been tackling this problem for a long time. Yeah it’s still unsolved, we’re struggling but we are not alone. The hand is one of the most complex parts of the human body. You have so much movement going on, and this is of course the place you interact with the sword. You have lots of vulnerable pieces as well. To really come up with a design that gets the energy out of the strike and to disperse it over a sufficient surface area is really hard with the space you have to work with. We always like to make the analogy between music and longsword fencing or HEMA in general which is something the ancient masters used to do as well. What for us is important here is that we see the same amount of technical finesse that is required to handle the sword and this is why we came with the idea that we would like to make a glove, a protective glove with which you can play a musical instrument. And that’s the challenge week we set ourselves to. The conditions in HEMA are so extreme that we believe the scientific approach is the only right approach to do this. You don’t necessarily take something that is already there and try to improve it, you study of the conditions of the product you’re designing for and you start from scratch with the parameters you get. What are the actions you’re actually required to take, not only the sword fighting but also the grappling. But also for example, putting gear on and off, also in case of an emergency. We have a partial prototype here, but we had to cover it because of IP issues so it’s slightly thicker now and it moves slightly less optimal but here you can see. So, hidden behind this little sports glove is our prototype and to show you that it works I’m going to grip the sword first and you see, I can move around unrestricted and shift from one grip to the other and it’s almost as if I’m not wearing anything And everything here stays cover, no gaps whatsoever. So, a consequence of.. putting our glove in higher skill, in the higher context and involving external investors is that we need to protect our intellectual property because we are looking at something that will have to be much bigger than HEMA in order to be sustainable. so this is why we haven’t been able to show the HEMA community and our backers a lot of details even though we really really want to. So in order to be able to put it on the market we need money, for that we need IP protection and because of that we cannot show anyone anything. For now. There is a fencing jacket with my name on it, which was almost like an inside joke. I was in Poland for a competition and I noticed that the Polish fencers had a gambeson with great arm movement in it. But the sports fencers never raise their arms above their head as we do some of the time so the arm mobility was very restricted it’s just because there was some padding to it and because the aesthetics of the jacket was very appealing. Because the Polish fencers used more or less a straight up gambeson, which meant it was proper protection and proper movement, but also it was laced, and I thought it would be better if we had a zipper for example, and a whole bunch of changes like that, a throat stopper to catch thrusts, and just took it from there. It was supposed to be just a jacket for me and I asked them to put my name on it. I don’t know, maybe they did as a joke, more or less, but it turned out to be a very popular product. There’s a lot of things to take into consideration when you’re designing a modern HEMA jacket. The first being washability: We all want to be able to throw our stuff in the wash and get it clean. We need a certain protection level that is generally above what you would see a medieval man wearing on the street, certainly. The cut of the garment is vitally important to allow us to raise our arms clear above our heads in ways that aren’t necessary in modern fencing. We also have a different aesthetic. What we think is attractive on a man’s body is very different from what a medieval man thought was attractive on his body and that changes some things. It very much depends on the focus of the individual HEMA practitioner, what are they looking to get out of theisr HEMA experience. It looks modern, it looks fresh. It doesn’t particularly pull off anything medieval at all. It’s very much a modern take. We were told by several HEMAists that it’s a modern sport, actually, so it should look modern. But then there are HEMA practitioners who very much want to work in garments that are made in the style of a medieval garment even if it’s modern materials. Again it’s up to the individual practitioner of what they’re interested in and that works out well I think for the producers of equipment because there are a lot of little niches to be filled because everyone has a little bit different approach to their HEMA experience. The other thing that really resonates with the HEMA community as I know it is a matter of self-presentation. We start to be a household name where people actually know what you mean when you say that you do HEMA. When that happens and it’s just about to happen, the reputation that we have at that point in time is the reputation that we will have for a very long time. It’s something that we’ll have to work…I work with advertising and this is just one of those things where it’s the way it is. So it’s very important for us in our community that as we study of form of combat, for example armoured combat, that we’re doing it right. At least as best as we understand right. And that means not taking 12th Century kit against 15th Century kit. So if we’re gonna do armoured combat, we’re gonna look good. We’re gonna look like people who are serious martial artists studying a serious martial art, which happens to include armour. We don’t wanna look like we’re playing some kind of a game. Let’s present ourselves in a fashion that is professional, that is athletic, that says serious martial artist and if you are a competitor, that says serious competitor in the modern world. We don’t want to give an impression that actually turns people away from what we’re doing, who would have done it if not for an issue of perception. In 2011 we did the first live stream of the tournament finals and that turned out to be very very popular so we’ve done that ever since and other events have also done the same thing, Longpoint for example in Washington. You know it was an experiment when they did this for the first time, we didn’t really know how it was going to turn out. That also brought a lot of attention to the tournaments. maybe that’s one of the reasons tournaments are popular, people are hoping to get on TV. We realized though that it had a lot of potential for outreach. I think that about the same time that we did that first one, there was a little video that was done here by a guy named Mattias Ryrlén where he attached a GoPro camera to the end of the sword, and so you were actually getting the view down the sword as a couple of us swung the sword around. And he took that video, he put it to some music, he put it up on YouTube and it went viral. And when that happened that really opened our eyes, it was so unexpected. And so I think, you know the guys at GHFS started really taking a view that this was a real tool for outreach. So, started working on it a little more from that point of view. That was part of a larger scheme to make everything a little more professional, so that we are taken a little more seriously. And the winner of the Open Longsword, Swordfish 2014: Axel Pettersson! The thing with an online community is that sometimes, the person who posts the most is considered the best fencer. And that’s of course not the case. Tournaments actually started out as a way of asking people who claimed knowledge over the Internet to put up or shut up. If you’re really trying to look at the question of “will this work under stress?” There are very few ways to actually do that that are as good as a tournament at the moment. Competition is an environment where I can be absolutely certain that my opponent is not cooperating with me. I can be absolutely certain that they’re not helping me, that they’re not even subconsciously trying to make my technique work. They’re not trying to make it look good, they’re not trying to do anything at all for me except beat me up. I think people confuse the idea that tournaments are like a real fight, they’re not. All of this, there’s always going to be a level of approximation. They’re not a simulation of a proper duel, in a duel you’re thinking about life and death and those are two different goals. People don’t approach it as a life and death situation because they know that lives are not at stake. You need to create rules that enhance the behaviour you want to see: technical proficiency, technical variety. What are the kinds of combative behaviours that you want to encourage and that’s how you develop these rules and use them to actually get people to fence better. Historically, competitions of different types were part and parcel of HEMA, the real historical traditions and the historical practices. You can take a look at Germany in the 1500s and you can see that they were having a Fechtschule or a public fencing competition, every weekend for a series of months. And this is in one town! These old historical rulesets existed for a different function, or we think they existed for a different function than our modern rulesets. The historical rulesets were games, games of skill using fairly limited and restricted skill sets within the martial arts of the time. But we need to remember that most of the modern tournaments is a modern invention. They’re not representative of a duel, it’s not a battlefield situation, it’s not a historical tournament, it’s something else because we’re trying to achieve slightly different things. If I’m learning 15th Century German longsword “Ernst Fechtens”, how to fight to kill a guy, I wanna be able to stab a guy in the face, I want to be able to grapple and bash him in the head with my pommel as we seen in the source material. None of that would be allowed under historical rulesets. But we also borrow a lot of things from historical rulesets like the afterblow for example. When you hit someone, they’re allowed within 1 fencing tempo in other words, immediately after you hit them, they’re allowed to try and hit you back If you touch your opponent, he’s not just gonna fall down and die. Most probably if you hit him in the shoulder and it’s not his weapon shoulder he’s gonna strike you back. There are so many times where we have historical accounts of that happening. That means that you need to strike your opponent and either keep on striking him without getting hit or rushing into grapple, or step out in cover. It’s artful fencing but it’s also just common sense. But for us, who are training a complete system, without that tradition, we also need to experiment with: what happens if all targets are open? you can do wrestling, you can do thrusts, you can do cuts, you can do 1-handed cuts, you can even do the Mordschlag, where you turn and you hit with the hilt, you can punch, you can kick, you can elbow. What happens? Why would these arts that they invented win over someone who’s just a big person, a strong person, a brawler. We want to create an environment that is as free as possible for people to do the things that they believe are the right interpretations of these texts in the sources that we have. To do that well and for competitions to be part of that we have to understand the context of the primary sources to begin with. If we want to see beautiful technical fencing that calls for one type of ruleset. If we are interested in who would win a fight in a back alley with a sword then we have to have a much more open ruleset. However that is gonna be more scrappy that’s gonna be people bearing down on you. There’s no point lamenting that we don’t see the beautiful techniques when we set up conditions that the masters themselves would have recognised aren’t gonna bring out the beautiful techniques. If martial arts is the application of good technique at the right time, maybe I have great technique but I haven’t figured out when to use it, I’m not much of a martial artist. Along the same token I might have the most perfect instincts in the world as a fighter but if I don’t have the right technique one of two things is gonna happen: I’m gonna get my butt kicked or I’m gonna fence in a way that everybody and their grandmother within the HEMA community is gonna look at me and say: “Jake, what you’re doing isn’t HEMA. I don’t know what you’re doing, it seems to be working, but it’s not HEMA.” If you win, but you do it poorly, with really ugly fencing or things that people don’t think are proper techniques, you’re not actually going to get a lot of positive feedback from that. You’re not going to be the hero of HEMA just because you won Swordfish. When we’re looking at tournaments I think one of the things you have to think about is just revealing flaws. When we try to do a technique we want our partners to take advantage of any mistakes that we make. We want to do a better technique and tournaments are unparalleled in the ability because there’s someone else who’s trying to actively hit you and get the point themselves. I’m going to really learn how that technique works at full speed, full intensity, against somebody who absolutely doesn’t want it to happen and what kind of mechanical tweaks need to happen there. What do I need to do with my feet, with my hips, with my hands. If it works, why? Remember that. If it didn’t, work why? Remember that. Did it not work because I’m out of shape and I’m too slow? Is that even a future that we needed for that technique? It allows me to really test that technique, it allows me to test myself. How well do I know the material that I claim to know that I claim to teach? I know for a fact that Anders Linnard entered this tournament, this Swordfish with the specific idea of practicing techniques. And I watched him carry out some techniques. If we get the context of the competitions right the things that work very often will be things that are advised in the books. You look at Eliisa Keskinen, from Finland, who won the ladies’ longsword. She was doing some seldom used techniques, she used a technique called the Krumphau. And not only using the Krumphau but she used… the right hand version is the common one. There is a left hand version that’s described. But she actually used it in the tournament. And that’s the first time I’ve ever seen anyone do it. Looks like… interesting. Another Krumphau! Krumphau that landed! Ended on a Krumphau. And afterbow, that was interesting, a Krumphau, from the left, scored by Eliisa Keskinen, nice to see that. She’s showing that, she knows the sources, she trains from the sources, she can use it effectively, she can score with that technique and she’s not just using it in the pool fencing, she’s using it in the finals and she’s winning for first place that’s just great. There are certainly concerns people have about tournaments turning HEMA too much into a sport and not enough of a practical martial art. We need to be cautious that we don’t push the competitive side so far that we move away from the elements of recovering historical systems into the realm of we just have a sport for sport’s sake. But having gone through it with those concerns and actually participated in tournaments, I think of benefits greatly greatly outweigh the negatives. I think the popularity of HEMA is a two-edged sword in that the most popular it becomes the more standardised it has to be. The good thing about standardisation is leading to the fact that it’s gonna be a safer competitive environment. It’s going to lead to the ability to mass produce the items and equipment the we so dearly want that currently cost a great deal. The dangers of standardizing anything are that it’s gonna limit any kind of continued growth. What if in 20 years’ time, somebody went: “Oh my goodness this makes so much more sense now I’ve just done this particular mystery move and it’s gonna completely change the way that we previously understood this” ? If you’ve got something that’s standardized in place, it’s gonna limit the growth of something at the moment we all love because it is so excitingly new. Having said that, I personally believe that it’s not all about tournaments. Tournaments, I think just seem to be at the moment and maybe for some time to come sort of the popular sexy component of HEMA. And the fact of the matter is, a lot of the people who do this get into HEMA because they wanna fight. They want to be sword fighters. That’s what young men wanna do in particular, more and more young women as well. People want to be sword fighters, they don’t just wanna pose, if they’re going to practice the techniques they wanna have a forum in which they can actually use them. If you talk to the people who actually win these tournaments and you ask them “Are tournaments the most important thing?” I think most of them would very quickly say no. I’ve been driving and creating the sporting scene of HEMA, but I really hate the sportification aspect of it. My club is one of the most successful clubs as far as tournament goes. We never practice for tournaments, we don’t practice by the rulesets or anything like that and the boys and girls that I train in my club are not thinking about only winning the tournaments, they’re thinking about self-development and as long as we can foster that culture and see the tournaments as a vehicle to improve as fencers in general, tournament has great value. They’re a useful motivator for people to just put in the hours week on week and then to train against a non-compliant person from a different school they haven’t trained with before. My greatest kick is when I’m able to perform a technique that the world hasn’t seen for 500 years. And if I can do it in sparring it’s good, if I can do it in a tournament it’s even better because there’s more stress and it’s an uncooperative opponent. For me it’s a way of measuring how much I have internalized all the art. Where we go with HEMA from now on? I think it’s probably gonna continue in a similar vein. It wil get bigger, it’s gonna get bigger because people’s awareness is increasing. Hopefully I don’t think it will die a death because it’s not a fad. It’s not something where everyone’s going: “Oh that’s fascinating, you do something that’s so different we must all come and do this” we haven’t become a hipster movement yet. It’s very very much a case of it’s people who want to do it and are interested in doing it and I think those people are always gonna be about. So it’s not too big to collapse in on itself, it’s still attracting people who have a genuine interest in it as a martial art, or as historical item or whatever. With all the publicity that we’ve been getting, HEMA is starting to go mainstream. You’re starting to see an interest from the mainstream martial arts community, you’re starting to see more of an interest from the mainstream sport fencing community. I’m starting to see people from… You see the crossfit crowd starting to look at this. That’s what I think the big trend is gonna be in the future, is the mainstreaming of HEMA. There really isn’t one particular kind of person that does HEMA because people come to it for all different reasons. They might come because they’re romantics, they might come because they love the movies and they might come because they want to get in shape. They come from all different reasons. There isn’t a particular kind of walk of life that I haven’t run across in HEMA or that seems to be really dominant. I know soldiers and cops, management consultants, IT guys, computer specialists, grade school teachers, professional athletes, soccer moms I mean I’ve run into all kinds of people who are practicing HEMA. I’m a lawyer Math teacher Freelance writer Criminology degree student Copywriter Project manager It’s not people who are gonna dress up in costumes necessarily, although it is those people too. It’s not Dungeons and Dragons nerds, although it is those people as well. It’s not your professors from university although it is them. It’s not your athlete and your school jock although it is certainly that guy when you put a sword in his hand. And that cross-section runs all the way from the high-level competitive guys all the way down to people who are just showing up to class because swords are neat and they want to take a class. HEMA is one of the most fantastic grassroots movements I’ve ever seen. It’s exciting, you can go and learn physical skills that you can put into a fun fighting situation, or a stressful competition fighting situation, take your pick, which can also be fun. So getting involved, if you’re lucky, there will be other groups in your area that have already sort of started building the community, so you just look for… swordplay places. There are also plenty of places I think, certainly in the US and I imagine elsewhere that people just kind of have to start on their own. So the biggest thing is to just reach out. Reach out and find other people that might share common interests and you never know what nearby neighbour you have or family member or person that you know may also be a closet HEMA person. Our oldest student is 70 and he’s actually pretty decent and pretty fast. That has surprised me, again because of the really broad demographic. There are lots of people that are sort of interested in this but just had never realized it was a thing. So I think part of getting involved if you’re doing it on your own is to just kind of let people know: “Hey look, I like doing swords you know is this something that anybody else wants to do?” Just ask really. HEMA is very much based on that model that it takes one two or three dedicated people to start a club. And even for the unfortunate people that are just kind of isolated, as long as you have the internet, you’re never fully isolated, when it comes to HEMA, so part of it is also knowing where to go online, various forms online. Just googling things. You should be very quickly able to locate the nearest club or find somebody else who has interests similar to your own about studying this or that or whatever. HEMA offers everything but you don’t have to tick all the boxes if you like. You might not be a top fencer or wrestler, but you are an academic and without the academics we would be nowhere, this would just be made up stuff that has no value whatsoever. Or you can be a community builder, an organizer a manager, a judge, anything really so there are so many ways to contributing to HEMA. It’s really multifaceted. If you love languages, history, competition, sport, fitness. It’s got everything. If only some of those aspects appeal to you, there’s still quite a lot to get on with. The point being the invitation is out there. Anyone can come and join in. It’s an athletic, physical activity. It is a mental activity, it is a scholarly activity. It’s a social activity. It’s really for anyone who is interested in something that happened, something that was, something that was amazing and if they’re passionate about joining in on that, they’re gonna be pretty damn welcome. It’s a lot easier today than it was 10 years ago, so there are really no excuses not to start a club if you’re interested.

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