LOL @ HEMA (Historical European Ma

rtial Arts).

Okay, just kidding, the thread title is inflammatory but I don't mean it that way.

I know some of us here are involved in HEMA (I'm not). I wanted to ask feedback. I've watched this phenomenon grow on the internet the past couple of years with great fascination. I know it's been going on longer than the internet suggests, but all my knowledge of it comes from what's published online and the threads at places like

Couple of observations in no particular order, hope you (TFS, Stu, whomever) feel like talking back.

1) Knowledge: One interesting thing about HEMA is there is a widely varying degree of who knows what. Each participant must be a researcher as well as a practitioner of the arts and weapons he/she/they are pursuing. This is both a good thing and a bad thing, IMO, good in that it encourages, nay, demands scholarship and bad in that it's hard to establish who really knows what they are talking about. Which leads us to

2) Lineage and certification. Correct me if I'm wrong but there are several ways, not standard, of identifying who is an expert and who's not, right? I have noticed that some create or are part of organizations (AEMMA, ARMA, etc.) and some come from a classical fencing background. The classical fencers are the ones that impress me the most, just because in some rare cases I can actually see a lineage going back to Victorian swordsmen. Both 1) and 2) lead me to

3) Politics! Holy moly. I lurk at SFI in the HEMA forum, have nothing to add being a kendo/iaido guy, just watch with interest for my own education, and I have always been amazed at some of the cattiness and politics that goes on in this community. People get involved in HEMA for a variety of reasons, many because they just can't believe that you can actually study Western swordsmanship as opposed to Asian, and they love that (I'll admit that's a good reason) but there are also a number of people who, through greed or attention-whoring or necessity, set themselves up as experts. Also, I guess the fact that there's been a gap in knowledge in many cases, from manuals to nothing to people trying to learn and teach what's in the manuals, will necessarily lead to contention, some of it scholastic, some of it personal or organizationally politcal, much of it a mixture of both.

So, you guys that are involved, what do you think? Personally, I would be hesitant to be involved in a combat art where my instructor was not validated by a credible organization. I think if I were going to be in involved in HEMA I would start from a sport-fencing tradition and try to find a classical fencing teacher and from there branch out if I could. I'm never going to do this, however, cuz I'm in kendo for the long haul. But I do find HEMA fascinating. Oh, which leads me to

4) HEMA has been going on a long time, hasn't it? Seems like some if it sprang up at the turn of the century but some of these cats have been trying to make sense of this material for aeons, right?

5) How many manuals are there?!

This post typed hastily, forgive, please.

Hi Charlie,

It makes me laugh too bro and until recently, I was pretty heavily involved myself. I am totally and completely into a combo of Scott Sonnon's RMAX and SBGi material these days.

The requirement for knowledge coupled with the need for skills is one of the great hampering factors faced by the community.

There aren't alot of people who are good fighters and interpreters at the same time and there are alot of people attempting to interpret medieval swordsmanship without the grappling knowledge many of the manuals imply should be your base. If I'm blunt about it, I would have to say that there are quite a few big names in the community who have never been in anything close to a real fight in their lives and who don't understand the importance of heavily "pressure cooking" what they do.

Apart from the classical fencing masters there is no real certification in WMA as a whole. Neither should there be IMHO. Saying that there should be WMA certification is like saying that there should be AMA certification. There are organisations that offer certification but since there is no lineage to most of these systems I personally don't see the point. Since the vast majority of established martial arts of any variety are absolute rubbish designed to retain students for the greatest possible time without regard to developing their skills I don't see any certification as valid. Each instructor should be evaluated on individual merit. His ability to improve your skills is the primary requirement.

Politics. Politics occur because of things such as certification. Most of the politics in HEMA occurr due to this factor and that of differences in approach.

Nobody seems to understand that Medieval martial arts require a different approach from Renaissance which require a different approach from 18th or 19th Century.

Nobody seems to understand that every master does not have equal weight. With some masters you are forced derive methods from the principles laid down in the manual in order to fill gaps in the treatise. With others you are forced to derive the principles from the plays. One can generally speak more authoritatively about later manuals than earlier ones which sometimes quite upsets the medievalists who don't understand just how much better later manuals are in terms of being able to be understood and interpreted.

Add to this that some people want to go to a martial movement class where the plays are repeated just to enjoy the movement. Some want to be fencing ninjas with deadly techniques designed to kill, others want to play a sport and some even want to treat their practice as a re-enactment of a fencing school. This last factor leads to great misunderstanding and frustration, especially between the sportsman/ninjas and the re-enactors/martial movement folks. You can add to this the fact that some people choose an eclectic approach and some choose a 1 manual/ family of manual approach. This last one is a major cause of problems.

People have been using old pictures and treatises to play for quite some time. We have manuals from the 19th century that are manuals about other manuals like Alfred Hutton's works (the only ones worth a read) Egerton Castle's works (don't get me started) and Arthur Wise's works (Don't get me started).

There are hundreds of manuals. The vast majority of the ones that are available, you will find referenced (if not posted) on the ARMA and AEMMA websites.

If you have any more questions, just fire away as I am always happy to be frank about such things, especially now that I have left the community.

As to the efficacy of reconstructed WMA. I know some very very good fighters.

If I was to have a brain explosion and decide to retake a technique oriented art, it would be a western art derived from a manual or a combat sport. At least this way I know that what I am working on has worked in combat for someone at least at sometime.

I lost alot of years of what could have been good training by trusting "ancient living lineage" people. NEVER AGAIN!
(Not that I'm bitter or anything)

The advantage of classical fencing of course is that it has both a living lineage and extensive and excellent documentation.

Stu, this is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for dishing.

I have sometimes been on the wrong end of WMA folks who wanted no input from AMA folks, too, by the way, which I respected but always thought was strange, because a dialogue may have been able to shed some light on some of the problems in their research.

By the way, I wish we were having this dialogue over a scotch instead of on the internet. It'd be easier for me to organize my thoughts that way!


Certification: I see this as a valuable thing, but then again, I have been involved in some very good orgs and some not-so-good orgs. The way the international kendo community, headquartered in Japan, is organized, its grading standards and curriculum standards, is admirable, and I am grateful for it. U.S. judo on the other hand: SNAFU. Three orgs competing for members, sometimes arguing, no grading standards, curriculum standards or tournament standards, as opposed to kendo where no matter where you go in the world it will be very similar to everywhere else. Gotta ask you about one thing, Stu. Your comments about ceritifcation and the following statement seem to suggest some issues, I wonder if you could expand:

"Since the vast majority of established martial arts of any variety are absolute rubbish designed to retain students for the greatest possible time without regard to developing their skills I don't see any certification as valid."

I don't know how to respond to this, because I'd say most of the MA I run into in my circles is pretty good. But maybe I move in the right circles? (Combative sport, collaborative, competitive, BJJ-friendly judo and MMA, Japanese MA) This sounds like you have been involved with HEMA people unable to back up their claims and are kinda bitter about it. What's the story?


1) What is classical fencing, exactly? I think it's sport fencing with a traceable lineage to the 19th-century that also has knowledge of 19th-century and pre-19th-century weapons, sometimes involving Rennaissance and medieval weapons, or no? The fact that these guys have a tracebale, accredited lineage appeals to me but I wonder how far back their knowledge goes; dueling saber I can see but not necessarily 12th-century longsword.

2) Working from manuals: I just don't see how someone can work entirely from a manual and a hodge-podge of previous MA experience and pass themselves off as a teacher. At best I respect it when they call themselves "study groups" and everyone is a collaborative researcher trying to figure out how the stuff in the manual works by using it in free play.

3) I don't know who all the orgs and study groups are, but some are better than others, aren't they? Let me be frank: AEMMA seems good. "The HACA," not the ARMA, seems bad, mostly because of the well-intentioned but ultimately flawed leadership of John Whatsisname. Sorry if this honks anybody off. Just seems to me the ARMA should be more like the "study group" described above. Heck, maybe the AEMMA should, too, although the Cvets seem like they have their poop together. Who the heck is Hank Reinhardt, anyway, and why does ARMA insist his teaching entitles them to such cred?


4) I just don't see why more of these guys don't wed what they are doing to established combative sport traditions. You know, in America, your average high school wrestling and boxing coach is part historian, these guys read up on their field a lot. Why wouldn't you try to figure out European wrestling in conjunction with sport training so as to be able to draw on the coaches and collective knowledge of the club? Also with the sword stuff; get involved with mainstream fencing and then branch out, is my feeling. A lot of these guys feel like their research will be polluted if they hook up with mainstream combative sport, methinks.

5) Arrogance. Personalities. Man, some of these people need to take a major chill pill, especially, as you said, when they don't have the experience in combat or even bouting to back it up. A little modesty would go a long way. Same stuff occurs in AMA circles, though, too. But in the right AMA circles, judo and kendo, for example (sorry to keep using those, that's my frame of reference) you have to prove yourself "on the mat" every day and so did your teacher. Stu, TFS, ever been at a conference or seminar with some of these people? One can frequently read about the contention at SFI the next day.

6) I hope none of the above is taking away from the fact that I heartily respect and admire these arts and researchers, with caveats.

There's more, but I'm spent for now. Wish we were having that scotch...

Oh, one last thought.

Part of the problem with any martial art is the superman syndrome, that is, respect or admiration for the art makes one blind to its shortcomings or the fact that it must be altered or personalized in order for it to be effective. AMA should get its comeupance in this regard ("I can paralyze a man with these pressure points!") and HEMA should, too ("these techniques have survived for hundreds of years because THEY WORK and they're far superior to anything ever to come out of the east").

"Why wouldn't you try to figure out European wrestling in conjunction with sport training so as to be able to draw on the coaches and collective knowledge of the club?"

EDIT: I was changing my post as Bludhall was responding, which is why the quote he uses in his post below is somewhat different

That is a great question. You really don't see too many grappling reconstructionists working with modern day wrestlers--which is too bad, because while modern wrestling is different from the old days, there has to be ton of material there that is similar.

Reasons for this IMO:

  1. Too much hard work, conditioning, and painful lessons required to be a proficient wrestler.

  2. Faulty grappling concepts are likely to get called out for the BS that they are if you have a wrestling veteran hanging around. Which means that you won't be able to pass yourself off as an authority without spending lots of time and effort.

Better to just hide behind the sanctity of the manuals.

"If you doubt the martial skill of HEMA folks go and seek some out and train with them, after your initial tar and feathering to cover the peasant smell you will be able to better decide if its worthwhile and then you can come here and tell us about it as we watch hilarious videos of you being beaten mercilessly with padded swords."

You do realize you are talking to a kendoka, right? :^D

I respect that free play is the ultimate benchmark of ability, if that's what you're saying. You and I have had some disagreements abotu TMA in the past, so we needn't get into it again: suffice it to say lineage can be a qualifier. John Clements could probably give two shits about what I think, he's got more vocal detractors than me. i hardly know the man! I'll put the poster up in my room, though.

Shoot, I got a lot more to say and ask but I'm off for a long weekend for Thanksgiving and I'm gonna watch some of your vids before I leave so I'll get back to you Monday.

Hey Guys,

Wow, this thread exploded overnight.

Certification works and works well for systems where there is a sporting aspect.

Without this sporting aspect there is no good way of testing practitioners. Kendo and Judo both work because of this. Charlie, you are lucky that you discovered "sport" martial arts early on. It took me quite some time to realise that the "combat" martial arts are no such thing. My bitterness (which sounds alot worse than it is) stems from being told lies about my training that I stupidly believed for years made worse by the fact that the people who told the lies believed what they were saying and still do despite me trashing them in sparring.
WMA was a breath of fresh air in this way. Everyone was a beginner to a degree and always will be.

Classical fencing.

It's pretty simple really. These guys have a living lineage in one or more actual duelling weapons. They might sport fence as well but have duelling skills coloured only by a couple of "teachers" worth of learning. If you go back two or so teachers you go back to a time when duels were actually fought.

Manual researcher=teacher?

It must be remembered here that the definition of teacher is someone who knows more than you who shows you stuff. We do not attach the same connotation to the word "teacher" as Asian stylists attach to "Sensei". The guy in the group who knows the most would likely be identified by an outside observer as the teacher. I don't believe you can "teach" martial arts anyway which is why I refer to what I do personally as "coaching".

People get very "het up" about manual researchers calling themselves teachers. Why? Who cares if what they are teaching is crap providing you aren't the one who is on the receiving end? The only reason you would care is if they were in competition with you....The only reason you wouls stress to your students that a lineage is important is to keep them training with you rather than forming their own little informal groups.....As usual, it's all about money. This is why I don't train in commercial gyms anymore. Just me, a bunch of friends and some tapes.

Another perspective....Three years of learning with a group working from a manual who by the nature of what they are doing have to heavily pressure test what they are doing is better than learning from a living lineage that does not such testing because "Our stuff is too deadly to spar". Why shouldn't the guy who develops his skills daily to show to others call himself a teacher? What right has anyone got to tell him he isn't?

Difference between schools.

I will only discuss approach here. Not quality. Quality is best assessed individually not by organisation.

This all comes back to my initial argument about the cause of politics. Each person looks for different things in a school. ARMA is a performance oriented approach for example. Everything seems to be a slave to performance. This is fine as long as you admit that this is what you are doing.

AEMMA has more of a re-enactment approach. Accuracy, Accuracy Accuracy.

Tying back to combat sports.

Most people in HEMA are more reenactor based than they wish to admit. Hence you are dead right that they don't ask for help so as not to pollute their art. rolls eyes.

I believe you can get away with working without a martial arts background when looking at manuals. You need to be a meticulous and gifted researcher and have a good knowledge of applied biomechanics. Bob Charron is a good example of someone like this.

Having a fencing background is a great boon from a principles point of view. ie fencing lines and times etc. Trying to apply tricks from CF or MF directly to a 18th/19th Century, Renaissance, or Medieval art is where the problems start.

We don't have this problem to any great degree down under. There are some ego's to be fed but they are pretty harmless. No offence, but I find this to be a largely American problem. Alot of Americans will self promote to a point that others find abhorrent. This is why the Europeans have understated organisations like HEMA which is a sharing resource with no real heirachy and America has the flash and bang of organisations like IMAF which stress ranks and certificates.

The Superman syndrome is rampant and oh so very transparent.

Once again it's all about gaining peer worship and attracting students to make money. If you can dupe people into believing that "perfect technique" rolls eyes rather than demonstrable skill is the key to winning fights then you needn't develop any skill yourself and needent demonstrate it. This is good for business and bad for the martial arts as a whole.

Hi Mike,

I didn't explain what I meant by accuracy very well.

By accuracy, I mean using historical training methods and tools and trying to be as faithful as possible to the way things were trained "back then" as possible. Hence my use of the reenactment moniker.

This is distinct from a performance based paradigm where the most expedient methods possible to create skill and experience are used.

Examples of this are using boffers rather than just steel and/or wood, applying modern sports science to training methods etc.

I agree with you about performance being the goal, it's just that not everyone else shares our opinion in this regard.

Some people stick to the plays in the manuals so closely that they won't actually improvise during a fight at all for fear of contravening the manual.

I'd rather not talk about Steve except to say that you are dredging up some fairly old history there. How about recently?

Hey Mike,

Steve and Paul's 1.33 book is really good. It starts right at the beginning by meticulously going over footwork and goes right the way through the technical to the tactical. Most important of all, it works.

As far as sword and large shield goes, I would look at Codex Wallerstein and Talhoffer as they are both available in your ARMA database and work very well.

dodges thrusting fingers and counters with phoenix eye fist watahhhh!

I haven't done any pugilism since I discovered Rodney King's Crazy Monkey boxing system. It works as well as pugilism defensively but without the vulnerability to low line takedowns that it built into pugilism via the rules.


i have the good fortune to be studying catch wrestling with Derek Kinikin, not a famous fellow, never will be. However, he is experienced at high school and university wrestling, as well as being deeply interested in Farmer Burns, and other catchwrestlers. It is a nice combination of a solid sport base combined with a deep historical interest and study. Unfortunately, i suck, which shows that even good instruction from a solid base can only drive a square wheel so far.


Sounds like you are on a good wicket there shoe. Do you wrestle for both subs and pins all the time or is the catch more of a sideline?

Bludhall, Dave has been researching I33 for a long time. I dont think he has published anything about it though. Lately he has also worked on Mendozas Pugilism. I did some very light, informal sparring with him, at the HEMAC event in Dijon and got whooped. Then again, I'm a grappler, not a striker, but it did seem to work very well.

And as YeLunatic and TFS are often fond of saying, skill in modern combative arts and sports is a necessary component of understanding these arts.

Yeah, YOL and I have championed that cause for a long time.

I will always love researching HEMA/WMA, but I personally have very mixed feelings about the "WMA Community" as a whole, given the rather broad spectrum of skill and competence that appears to be out there.

Some of the research is very good, and some isn't. One has to sift thru a fair amount of chaff, to get to the wheat.

Hi, Stu. If anything we spend more time going for subs, probably 'cause Derek can pin me anytime he wants. Seriously though, the subs are always in...and yes it is a good wicket...i enjoyed the BJJ i used to do, but the catch is so much more dynamic.