What is HEMA?

The modern sport of fencing is derived from earlier systems. But this is a small part of the whole picture.

Europe produced a remarkable literature of combat, from many countries, over the course of several centuries. The earliest known fight-book dates from around 1300, depicting monks, as well as a woman, fencing with sword and buckler (a small round shield). Later treatises cover all manner of swords, polearms, unarmed combat, sickles, daggers and other weapons.

"MS I33 32r". Via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MS_I33_32r.jpg#mediaviewer/File:MS_I33_32r.jpg
“MS I33 32r”. Via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MS_I33_32r.jpg#mediaviewer/File:MS_I33_32r.jpg


Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) is founded on the premise that although these systems fell out of use, or mutated into something different, it is possible to reassemble them.

Sword and cape, from Alfieri
Sword and cape, from Alfieri

This is approached through scrupulous attention to the texts, physical experimentation, and study of their cultural context; without dismissing insights from elsewhere, such as modern training methods, pedagogy, biomechanics, or other martial arts. There is no dressing up – the central aim is to understand the historical systems. Therefore fighting with historical weapons by itself is not HEMA. By definition HEMA is practice based upon historical sources, hence the fundamental importance of the texts.

In this context tournaments and competitions provide an important space for practitioners to gather together and test their training and interpretations with the pressure of uncooperative opponents.


Fotograph by Rainer Keizer taken at ILHG 2014
Fotograph by Rainer Keizer taken at ILHG 2014

This description of HEMA is based on an interview with P. Terminiello, who will also be speaking at the London HEMA Open.

If you’d like to know more about HEMA and where you can find groups practicing historical fencing then please contact us.

Do I need to bring my own kit? If so, what?

We have regular attendees who are happy to some kit, if they know in advance. However, WSG generally operates on a “bring your own kit” basis.

Do you only use steel feders/synthetic wasters/rubber chickens?

WSG is the land of do as you please. Most regulars own and prefer to train with sparring safe steel (aka “feders” for longsword) but if you have your own preferences, bring the weapon simulators and enjoy.

How experienced do I have to be? Do you accept beginners?

WSG welcomes anyone who can be safe and constructive in their training. That said, to get the most out of unstructured open training time, a basic grounding is helpful.

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