What is HEMA?
HEMA is an acronym for Historical European Martial Arts.
When the average American thinks of martial arts, they tend to conjure ideas of disciplines from across the globe, but particularly people tend to think of Asian arts. Now, with UFC being a popular sport, mixed modern arts are also widely known, and people are aware that every culture had martial arts in their history. Europe is, curiously, left out of this imagery though.
Like all cultures, early European fighters had training, drills, weapons, and techniques they used to defeat their foes both in duels and on the battlefield. They wrote manuals (which are commonly also referred to as treatises) about how to fight with a variety of weapons, how to grapple and wrestle, and even how to fight against armored versus unarmored opponents.
Like all cultures, early European fighters had training, drills, and techniques they used to defeat their foes both in duels and on the battlefield. They wrote manuals about how to fight with a variety of weapons, how to grapple and wrestle, and even how to fight against armored versus unarmored opponents.
So what time periods does HEMA cover? In the broader sense, any information we have from the European area historically until around the 19th century. Most recorded text can be found mid 1300's on. French, Scottish, German, Italian, and many other countries all fall into this umbrella.
Ms. I.33 (or, recently, O.33) is the earliest surviving manual we have dating back to the early 1300's. The Royal Armouries has a fantastic short video on this unique article of history.
Many manuals were made by many master martial artists from these time periods. Some of the most popular names you will hear in the HEMA world are: Johannes Liechtenauer, Joachim Meyer, Fiore de Liberi, Johann Georg Pascha, Paulus Mair, Jud Lew, Hans Talhoffer, and so many more. So when you hear someone refer to themselves as a "Meyerist" or a "Fioreist" they are describing the treatise that their techniques have been learned from, or another way to look at it, the style they are using.
Luckily, with modern technology, we can see these manuscripts and translated versions of what they say thanks to the hard work of historians and scholars all over the world with the power of the internet. https://wiktenauer.com/ is one of the largest projects from Western martial artists bringing these sources together so students may look directly at the primary sources and learn as they train without spending money or needing to know several historical languages. Many HEMAists learn from many manuals and take advantage of modern information to blend styles together in a way that suits their own particular fighting style.
HEMA schools have taken these dead or phased-out martial arts and have re-created them with hard work, collaboration, and technology -- bringing them back to life. Even with all the technology we have, interpreting these techniques can be tricky and learning to apply them even more so, and this is where HEMA schools and their instructors come in. Schools break down the techniques using modern learning styles and blend tactile learning with scholarly sources.
In modern times, these schools get together to fight in tournaments, learn and study from one another, and give back to the HEMA community in any way they can to continue to strengthen these martial arts and keep them alive. Many people participate in HEMA for tournament fighting, to participate in historical cultural roots, and to have a hobby that is both scholarly and physical in nature. It is a unique art, and one can be very sportsmanlike and intense or slow and methodical.
We are proud to offer this art to the Asheville area here at Warriors of Ash, and we teach classes several times a week to give a wide variety of these arts to our local community.
As you may notice, we include Viking Combat as a class in our school. This is unique to us and part of what makes us stand out in the HEMA community. The difference between this class and the other weapon systems we teach is that there is no written record for Viking specific martial arts. We have some ideas based on historical finds, but there is no true text written from the Viking era that would give a clear idea as to how the Vikings fought. Still, we are not just shooting in the dark either. Archaeological finds, later forms of combat evolving from earlier unwritten forms, recordings from periods just after the Viking age, and other details hint at what we have used to create and breathe life into the time period following the Iron Age.
If you'd like to learn more about HEMA there are resources on our website and on the internet, but the best way to learn about it is to simply get started in it! We offer beginner classes once a month to help new students get started in this art, so we encourage you to look on our website, read about the classes we offer, and sign up.
Without books no one can be a good teacher nor even a good student of this art. ~ Master Fiore Furlano de’i Liberi, ca. 1405