HEMA? What the heck is that?

Great question!

Short Summary and Video

It’s a martial art and you get to hit people with weapons. If that interests you, look for a club near you and check out this guide to learning more.

If you don’t want to read a few paragraph description, this video is a nice and short introduction:

What is HEMA? The text version

HEMA stands for Historical European Martial Arts. What that means in short is that HEMA is study and practice of historical European fighting techniques that were traditionally practice in Europe and its colonies.

These techniques include but are not limited to:

  • Unarmored combat with various weapons (longsword, rapier, sword & shield, dagger, polearms, etc.
  • Armored combat with various weapons
  • Mounted combat both unarmored and armored, primarily with the sword and lance.
  • Unarmed combat which includes wrestling, grappling, punching and kicked; which are fully integrated into all of the above.

Unlike other martial arts, which have living traditions, HEMA is primarily based on the study of surviving manuscripts and books written by long ago by European fencing and wrestling masters. Thus, they are reconstructed fighting arts. HEMA has been practiced in a systematic way since the mid-1990s, although attempts at reconstruction occurred as early as Victorian times.

The European fighting arts evolved over time, with each era having its own focus and flavor:
• Medieval: The period of greatest diversity, with a primary focus on the longsword, following the teachings of masters such as Johannes Liechtenauer and Fiore dei Liberi.
• Renaissance: Focused on the rapier systems of the late 16th and 17th centuries
• Early Modern: Primarily smallsword, military sabre systems, and stick-fighting systems

Most HEMA clubs focus on Late Medieval fighting arts (especially the longsword) or on the Renaissance sword arts (especially the rapier). However, many clubs practice a mix of arts, weapons, and periods. Above all, HEMA is characterized by its diversity.

Regardless of a club’s particular focus, the practice of HEMA typically consists of: Physical conditioning; training in martial techniques (alone, with a partner, or in a group); putting martial techniques into practice by sparring with opponents; and the practice of related skills, such as using the sword to cut through targets.

Some HEMA practitioners choose to take part in tournaments as a way of testing their skills, but this is by no means required.

Although our practitioners come from many backgrounds, HEMA is NONE of the following:
• Live Action Role Playing (LARP)
• Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA)
• Medieval/Renaissance Re-Enactment
• Stage Combat

The bedrock foundation of HEMA is the study of primary source material, such as old books on fencing and wrestling. Because of this, scholarship and research are important parts of the practice of HEMA. Many of these old works have been translated, and quite a few are illustrated. A wide selection can be found online at sites such as www.wiktenauer.com or by

Credit for this description goes to user Pfobenczagel on reddit.