What is HEMA/Historical Fencing?
HEMA is the acronym for Historical European Martial Arts, and generally refers to any non-modern hand-to-hand martial art or combat sport from Europe or related countries. This means that Olympic fencing, boxing, and modern wrestling aren’t generally considered HEMA, and neither are activities such as archery.
While HEMA is often synonymous with historical swordsmanship and fencing it actually includes many arts such as fighting with staffs, daggers, polearms, swords, spears, and unarmed techniques, and can even include techniques from horseback and in armour.
One of the distinguishing features of HEMA is that it is usually based on historical fencing texts from the period. For example one of the texts we use was written in 1570 and describes the use of the longsword, sidesword, staff, halberd, dagger, and other weapons. This differentiates HEMA from some schools which teach modern composite sword arts without a single unified body of underlying knowledge. To find our more about what we teach go to the What We Teach page.
How is different from Olympic fencing?
While there are similarities between Historical Fencing and Modern Sport/Olympic Fencing, there are also many difference.
The clearest difference is in the weapons used. In HEMA the weapons used are the same as examples seen historically. A historical longsword, for example, might weight 1.5kg, whereas the light flexible foil used in modern fencing might only weigh 350g.
There are also differences in how we train. The techniques from HEMA are based in the time period they were use, and the art itself straddles the boundary between sport and martial art.
The protective equipment for HEMA is somewhat different to modern fencing, and in competition there is no use of electronic scoring apparatus.
Do you wear armour or dress up?
While some styles of HEMA do teach armoured fighting, our school focuses specifically on unarmoured fencing (known as Blossfechten in the German fencing manuals).
This means that we don’t wear armour, and neither do we dress up in period costume – our art is taught as a martial art and combat sport, and not as a re-enactment activity. If you are part of a re-enactment group or LARP (Live Action Role Playing) organisation though we certainly encourage you to come along and add a few new tricks to your repertoire.
So what equipment do I need?
When beginning training all you need is clothing suitable for athletic activity, and an enthusiastic attitude – we’ll provide everything else.
Eventually students will probably want to acquire their own gear, though there’s no need to do this all at once. To get the most out of your training over time you’ll eventually need:
- An appropriate fencing mask
- Protective gloves (HEMA specific)
- A sword (of course!)
There are lots of brands on the market for all of these, so talk to your coach and other students about what brands and styles to get – there will be plenty of good advice to be had.
If you keep training for long enough and begin to engage in sparring you’ll also eventually want to get a HEMA specific fencing jacket, as well as other elements of protective gear, but these can wait.
For a wider discussion of gear you’ll want to eventually get you can find more information HERE.
What is a typical class like?
Typical classes run for around 90 minutes to 2 hours. We begin with a series of warm-up exercises consisting of light calisthenics and fencing specific movements. These aren’t too strenuous, and should prepare you for the real training.
Most classes have a particular topic or technique of the day. Your coach will take you through drills with a partner to practice the technique – you’ll change partners regularly so you get to play with everyone in the group. These drills might be simple attack/defence drills, or more complicated series of movements aimed at teaching a particular skill or set of skills.
Toward the end of the class students typically practice the fundamental elements of the syllabus (basic techniques which make up the system), or for more experienced students engage in free play or sparring. Sparring can be quite slow and relaxed or quite high intensity, depending on the abilities and preferences of the students.
Classes sometimes end in mini “fechtschule” – a kind of fun tournament where everyone gets a chance to fence.
Is it dangerous?
HEMA is typically a very safe activity, especially in the kind of friendly, controlled class environment we encourage. That said, as with all martial arts and contact sports there is a risk of injury, so we encourage all students to take care in classes and look after each other, as well as to take good care of their own safety by wearing appropriate equipment and not training beyond their levels of ability.
Are there any physical fitness requirements?
Absolutely not! HEMA is suitable to all levels of fitness, age, and ability. We work with students within their individual capabilities and needs so that they can become the best possible fencers that they can be.
Are there HEMA tournaments or competitions?
Absolutely! While competition isn’t for everyone, we encourage students with competitive inclinations to enter the Australian HEMA tournament scene. Australia has many Historical Fencing tournaments and we pride ourselves on having some of the most highly ranked and competitive fencers within their respective divisions. Fencers from our group have competed at the highest levels both nationally and overseas.
To find our more about the Australian and International HEMA tournament and rankings try the following links:
Here’s some footage of a HEMA tournament in action: