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What is Historical Fencing?

Historical Fencing is part of a wider discipline called HEMA – Historical European Martial Arts. These martial arts originated in Europe and, over the centuries, evolved into sports (e.g. modern fencing) or died out as they became obsolete.

The only reminder of these lost martial arts were a series of “fight-books” – manuals written between the 15th and 17th century by the fencing masters of the time. These books outlined the martial principles of a variety of weapons and fighting styles and taught the knowledge and techniques of the masters using detailed text and often beautiful illustrations.

These manuals existed in museums, libraries and private collections for centuries, mostly ignored by academics and martial artists. The concept of martial arts as a European tradition was lost. Over the last 30 or 40 years, there has been a revival of interest in how these historical weapons would have been used. Scholars and martial artists have been studying the manuals from historical, academic and practical viewpoints, applying their knowledge of other current martial arts traditions and scientific disciplines like biomechanics to come up with a modern interpretation of how these ancient fighting arts might have been practised.

Is It For Me?

HEMA clubs can be found across the world, with many in the UK and Scotland. All clubs have different approaches and a different historical focus, although most will centre on some form of sword combat. Generally, HEMA is a fun alternative to Eastern martial arts, it’s a good way to keep fit and it’s great if you have an interest in history, especially martial history.

Historical fencing is a technical art and this is why it’s also surprisingly suitable for women as well as men. Understanding and implementing the key concepts of historical sword combat, especially good footwork, will serve you well against somebody with more strength but less technique. The following quote is from the Nuremberg Hausbuch (MS 3227a), dated somewhere between 1389 and 1494:

“Liechtenauer’s swordsmanship is a true art that the weaker wins more easily by use of his art than the stronger by using his strength.”
Translated by David Lindholm

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