Historical European Martial Arts

The term 'Historical European Martial Arts' (HEMA) refers to a wide array of martial disciplines traditionally practiced in Europe and its colonies. These consist of the following:

  • Unarmored combat with various weapons (longsword, rapier, sword & buckler, dagger, etc.)

  • Armored combat with various weapons (sword, dagger, spear, poleaxe, etc.)

  • Mounted combat (armored and unarmored, primarily with sword and lance)

  • Unarmed combat (wrestling, punching and kicking arts; integrated into all of the above)

Unlike other martial arts, which have living traditions, HEMA is primarily based on the study of surviving manuscripts and books written long ago by European fencing and wrestling masters. Thus, they are reconstructed fighting arts. The European fighting arts evolved over time, with each era having its own focus and flavor:

  • Medieval: The period of greatest diversity, with a primary focus on the longsword, following the teachings of masters such as Johannes Liechtenauer and Fiore dei Liberi.

  • Renaissance: Focused on the rapier systems of the late 16th and 17th centuries.

  • Early Modern: Primarily smallsword, military sabre, and stick-fighting systems.

Most HEMA clubs focus on Late Medieval fighting arts (especially the longsword) or on the Renaissance sword arts (especially the rapier). However, many clubs practice a mix of arts, weapons, and periods. Above all, HEMA is characterized by its diversity.

Regardless of a club’s particular focus, the practice of HEMA typically consists of --Physical conditioning; training in martial techniques (alone, with a partner, or in a group); putting martial techniques into practice by sparring with opponents; and the practice of related skills, such as using the sword to cut through targets. Some HEMA practitioners choose to take part in tournaments as a way of testing their skills, but this is by no means required.

The bedrock foundation of HEMA is the study of primary source material, such as old manuscripts on fencing and wrestling. Because of this, scholarship and research can be important parts of the practice of HEMA. Many of these old works have been translated, and quite a few are illustrated.

Further information and resources can be found on the HEMA Alliances 'New to HEMA' page. The HEMA Alliance is a U.S. based non-profit that provides services and support to individual HEMA clubs and practitioners.

Fiore dei Liberi, 1409

Fiore dei Liberi, 1409

Joachim Meyer, 1570

Joachim Meyer, 1570