Historical European Martial Arts

H.E.M.A.'s short history

Historical European Martial Arts (H.E.M.A.) has been developed over 700-800 years ago. But it has been forgotten about for around the past half millennium. This form of martial arts is only coming back again since the last couple of decades.
Thanks to new discoveries and archives becoming available again we finally are able to teach ourselves the ‘old ways’ of the martial arts.

There are different traditions of European Martial Arts like German, Italian, English, French and Spanish. With the first two being the de facto standard, measuring a timespan from ca. 1300 to 1800.

But after several centuries is H.E.M.A. back in action. There is a lot of attention for it world-wide. Now, there aren’t tens of thousands practising it, but there sure enough that do. Besides that, there are various events and tournaments going on as well. Both exercising and studying the sport is important. By studying the transscripts we are able to better exercise the sport.

Some Examples

Underneath I will show you some examples of what H.E.M.A. can cover as both a sport but also the history behind it.
Practicing H.E.M.A. as a sport is not only using your body, but also the mind when analysing transcripts.

Johannes Liechtenauer – 14th-15th century:

Johannes Liechtenauer was a German fencing master with great influence on the German fencing tradition in the 14th century.
The only biographical note of Liechtenauer is found in ‘Nürnberger Handschrift GNM 3227a’ states he did not invent nor make the techniques up himself, he only learnt and mastered them.

The image and text on the right describe two combatants holding guard in specific styles. When talking about ‘Alber’ we mean holding the point of the sword forward and low to the ground with the hands low. ‘Vom tag’ (roof) is a high and ready to stike position.

The wielder on the left is practicing the 'Alber' guard. The wielder on the right practicing the 'Vom tag' guard.
In the 25. how he (expectingt horsemen) shall set the Pike against the right foote and draw his sword over the left arme, like as this figure sheweth.

Jacob de Gheyn II – 16th-17th century:

Jacob de Gheyn II Dutch painter and engraver. De Gheyn had made countless of artworks, including an engraving for ‘Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange’ of the siege of Geertruidenberg.
De Gheyn created a series of illustrations for drills, using the caliver, musket and pike in 1607. They were published under the book titled: Wapenhandelinghe van Roers Musquetten ende Spiessen “Weapon-handling of Calivers, Muskets, and Pikes”. The book, along with de Gheyn’s illustrations were used for army drills. During this time armies becames better organised than they were before.

The text on the left describes the image above:
The soldier should, when expecting horsemen, place the pike against his right foot (for extra stability) and draw his sword over his left arm (the one holding the pike), like shown in the image.

Nicolaes Petter – 17th century:

Nicolaes Petter, a German wine merchant and wrestling master wrote an extensive treatise on grappling as a means of ‘urban self-defense’ titled ‘Klare Onderrichtinge der Voortreffelijke Worstel-Konst’ (Clear Education in the magnificent Art of Wrestling)
Nicolaes Petter’s work, in old Dutch, is quite hard to read since old Dutch to current Dutch evolved quite a lot. This is one of the harder parts in learning the history since it has to be translated to be understood for most people.

H.E.M.A as a sport today

H.E.M.A as a sport is, with all the information prior above, a combination of both physical exercise and studying the history.
Studying the history is very important since reading the transcripts literally describes in what way and/or method actions have to be taken.

In the sport either polymer, wood and/or (unsharpened) steel weaponry is used, together with modern fencing masks, gloves and other materials specifically designed for H.E.M.A. to prevent any injuries during duels.

Under here is a video of the finals from Swordfish tournament from 2018:

Online media

Thanks to the internet, sharing information about H.E.M.A. is easier than ever! Underneath here are some good examples:
Wiktenauer (Wikipedia voor western martial arts, H.E.M.A. included)
Blood & Iron HEMA on YouTube
Skallagrim on YouTube

External Sources used