“HEMA” is an acronym for “historical European martial arts”, which are the martial traditions from Europe’s history. This activity is also sometimes called “historical fencing” or “WMA” (short for “Western martial arts”).
We work with textbooks written by medieval, renaissance, and early-modern fencing masters, who codified their art into writing. They wrote treatises about fighting with the different weapons of their day, and these treatises survive in manuscripts and printed books, in libraries and collections all over the world.
We study these books, interpret the treatises, and teach the fighting systems as proper modern martial arts. For this, we use safe modern equipment: our training swords are blunt and made from high quality steel (and we also use durable plastics for some training swords); we use fencing masks and padded gloves to keep ourselves safe. By using modern equipment, it allows us to practise these historical fencing skills in a comprehensive and complete fashion without any worries about safety.
Engaging the brain
There is a strong academic aspect to HEMA for people who are interested in getting the brain involved. A complete study of HEMA involves history of art, learning about the social and legal contexts of different countries and places in history, discovering the biography of the fencing masters themselves. There is also learning about codicology to study the books and manuscripts, and learning about language and historical languages to be able to engage with the source material directly. We study the physical pieces of arms, armour, and other textiles that are extant in museums and other collections, allowing us to understand the items about which the treatises have been written.
Of course, not everyone is interested in all of these aspects of HEMA, and not everyone needs to be. If it strikes your fancy, then the instructor will be delighted to point you towards some useful reading material to get started. It is very easy to start learning more about the history and context of the arts we study, and, if you want more, it is quite possible to become involved in further research for publication on blogs, in peer-reviewed journal, or traditionally published printed books.
High level sport
For people who are more physical, the practice of HEMA can be elevated to a very high level of athleticism and competition, with tournaments all around the UK, Europe,and internationally. Although competition is not a focus of this club, entering competitions is a healthy part of developing a complete skill-set, and the best way to do well in competitions is to display good fencing skills developed through competent and diligent training at club level.
What we teach in this club will be perfectly applicable in national and international competitions, and will set you up well to enjoy high level sparring with other skilled practitioners.
Gentle and low-impact motion
While the techniques and sequences can be used in high-intensity, high-impact situations, they can also be practised and performed in a relatively gentle and low-impact fashion. HEMA can be a very enjoyable way to stretch and move the body, improving your general fitness and your understanding of how the body works.
Our focus in this club is learning to do everything correctly, with a strong emphasis on body structure and the mechanics of each action. This makes the activity perfect for people who just want to move around and do something interesting with sword in hand, without worrying about high-intensity sparring or competitions. It can be challenging enough to coordinate the body so that everything works as it should!
Inclusive and friendly
One of the best things about HEMA and the community is that the activity is totally inclusive. Men and women, young and old, fit and unfit, natively European or coming from anywhere else in the world – everyone is welcome.
For more reading about this, please see our equality and inclusivity statement.