What is Hema?

The Historical European Martial Arts

The Historical European Martial Arts or HEMA refers to the form of martial arts that have originated from Europe, particularly utilizing the arts that were formerly practiced, yet died out or developed into varying forms; though there are only a few surviving records of the classic martial arts (specifically gladiator combat or ancient Greek wrestling) that were dedicated to the combat manuals or technical treatises dating from the Late Middle Ages to the Early Modern Era.

Because of this, the focus on the Historical European Martial Arts was specifically during the time of the half millennium throughout the years 1300 to 1800 wherein Italian and German schools appeared and flourished during the late Medieval and the Renaissance period (specifically the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries).

Nineteenth-century martial arts such as classical fencing can also be included in HEMA just like the traditional or classic styles that have been demonstrated during the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries; these include folk wrestling, as well as the traditional styles of stick fighting.

There were times when the term WMA (Western Martial Arts) was utilized in the United States in a much wider sense which included contemporary and classic disciplines; during the later period of the Middle Ages, the longsword was said to have a status of honor among disciplines, and at times, historical European swordsmanship was utilized to specifically determine swordsmanship styles and techniques.

Ancient History of the Historical European Martial Arts

Generally, there are no known records on HEMA before the later period of the Middles Ages yet some medieval literature featured certain records on military knowledge and martial deeds in addition to the historical artworks depicting weaponry – such as the longsword and rapier – and combat.

Numerous researchers have tried to reorganize the traditional fighting styles like the Gladiatorial Combat, Pankration, Viking Swordsmanship, and the Byzantine Hoplomachia in reference to various resources and constructive experimentation.

HEMA during the Renaissance Period

During the sixteenth, the summary of traditional Fechtbücher (combat manual) were produced – a few of these were printed specifically during the 1540’s by Paulus Hector Mair (a civil servant who was active in various martial arts in his period) and during the 1570’s by Joachim Meyer (a sixteenth century fencing master and German Freifechter).

At the time of the sixteenth century, German fencing slowly developed and evolved featuring sportive aspects. Treatises of Meyer and Mair were based on the teachings from the earlier Liechtenauer tradition yet with distinct and contemporary aspects.

As the mid-century came, equipment such as the companion weapons and polearms slowly lost their importance and popularity, eventually fading out of such treatises; in the year 1553, Camillo Agrippa (a renowned architect, engineer, fencer, and mathematician from the Renaissance period) was the very first individual to describe the hand positions (specifically the quarta, prima, terza, and seconda guards) that remained as the backbone of classic Italian fencing throughout the next centuries and the future.

From the sixteenth century, the Italian rapier fencing acquired great popularity throughout Europe, specifically with Salvator Fabris’ (Italian fencing master who came from Padua) treatise in the year 1606.

The Modern Community of the Historical European Martial Arts

Since the year 1990, communities of Historical European Martial Arts have appeared and flourished, as well as in other English-speaking areas such as Australia, North America, and a lot more. These groups continuously attempt to reconstruct and reorganize the Historical European Martial Arts by utilizing a variety of training procedures; and although the primary focus is on the Renaissance and Medieval martial arts masters, the methods of teachers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were also studied and learned, as well as reconstructed.

The Longsword and Rapier in Hema

For those who enjoy longsword battles in films, television series, and even in animation, this fast growing sport is something one would definitely enjoy; this is called the longsword fighting which is referred to as the rebirth of a long-forgotten historical European martial arts. In this day and age, enthusiasts have grown interested in HEMA which includes activities such as various types of sword fighting using weapons (just like the rapier) and grappling.

Despite the numerous categories and equipment utilized under this, the longsword has become one of the most popular and is gaining much attention from martial arts enthusiasts. The Long Point tournament which began in the year 2011 is now one of the biggest HEMA even in North America, and their open-steel longsword division featured fifty-five participants with eight of them being women.

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