09 April, 2015

H is for HEMA [A to Z Challenge 2015]

HEMA stands for Historical European Martial Arts.

Before we go any further, I'll answer the first question I am always asked: no, it is not that thing at renaissance fairs where people dress up in costumes, hold royal courts, and often beat one another up with foam tubing. That is most likely the Society for Creative Anachronism or some other role playing, primarily creative, affiliation. It is also not theatrical fighting or a fencing sport. All three of these may or may not draw from historical materials or origins but do not observe the actual method of practical survival with historical weapons.

HEMA is exactly that. The term refers to the documented methods of historical European combat. It is used as a system for reconstructing medieval combat according to its original function through study and practice. You can read more about it here at the HEMA website.

I found out about both the organization and the concept of historical European martial arts through my husband. We're both history geeks and he loves studying historical combat and warfare. It started slowly, with the purchase of historically accurate swords, and has culminated in participation in a local HEMA chapter - the Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship - for both of us. While my work schedule has forced me to stick to home practice and being the unofficial, sometimes-photographer of the group, hubby has advanced in skill and knowledge to the point that he teaches others. We have scores of books on the subject, various DVDs, and an entire closet full of gear and weaponry that we regularly use to beat one another over the head (a joke! Though it is very easy to injure the other person if you're too forceful).

My interest in HEMA began as an education for my fantasy writing. Neither my husband or I appreciate the creative liberties that Hollywood - and modern society - has long taken that make swordsmanship look ridiculously hard. (For example, most single-handed European swords are not heavy, weighing in at about 2-4 pounds. I am not muscular by any means and I can easily hold one up for several minutes. Also, a twenty-minute fight is simply not accurate. Most one-on-one combat I've seen is over in seconds. ) I was determined to make my fighting scenes realistic.

Not only has it made my writing stronger and more accurate, it's just fun. I mean, where else can I whack someone with a sword or wrestle him to the ground with a dagger?


  1. Very interesting Jessica. I feel a bit foolish but am glad to read the facts of these weapons. My son has bought two "European" swords at our Houston Renfest and they each weigh a ton - hmmmm. We knew they weren't authentic but figured the weight was correct. Great post and thanks for visiting! - http://www.door2lore.com/power-of-story-blog/

    1. Hi Sue! Nothing to feel bad about - that's what we've all been exposed to. I used to think swords were supposed to be massively heavy. Imagine my surprise the first time I held a true recreation!

  2. In my first books I had to do a lot of research into martial arts, although they were of Asian in nature. And you're right about combat in that they last seconds rather than minutes.

    1. I know a few people from HEMA who are into both combat styles.


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