What is Historical fencing and Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA)?

The terms Historical Fencing and Historical European Martial Arts (affectionately known as HEMA) describe the practice of reconstructing the combat skills of varying periods of European history primarily using written sources. While not literally martial arts from the middle ages (or any other period) HEMA functions as a methodology through which the fighting skills of ages past can be explored and understood. The primary sources for HEMA are instructional manuals, though other sources are used wherever possible.

The most common focus for this work is reconstructing swordplay, hence which it is often referred to as historical fencing. A great deal of work has gone into researching medieval weapons such as the longsword, cross hilted sword (often with buckler), and rapier, along with Early Modern weapons such as the basket hilted broadsword, smallsword, and sabre.  HEMA Is not limited to swords however and much research has been done on quarter staff, dagger, pole weapons, and unarmed skill like wrestling and bare knuckle boxing.

The focus of such scholarship begins with the earliest European fighting manuals from the 1300s and continues until the beginning of the 20th century, with most practitioners having different specialisations. Methods studied are typically divided by tradition (such as the Liechtenauer tradition from German or the Bolognese school from Italy), by period and region (such as with 19th century British sabre or 17th century French smallsword), or by the works of a single author (like George Silver or Alfred Hutton). HEMA can be said to end when and where living traditions of a system continue to be practised rendering reconstruction unnecessary.

What Are Western Martial Arts (WMA)?

The term Western Martial Arts refers to martial arts traditions that arose in Europe and its offshoots. These traditions include everything from pankration, the no-holes-barred unarmed combat of the ancient Greeks, the weapon skills of the middle ages to classical fencing, boxing, and wrestling. Western Martial Arts is an umbrella term as different cultures and linguistic groups within Europe developed their own characteristic approaches and we can talk about distinct styles and schools. These style also changes over time with new ideas and applications arising, be they the fighting for honour in private duels, expanding empire at the point of a sword or personal defence while travelling a dangerous countryside.

At Stoccata our focus is on reviving systems of by gone ages, be they medieval fighting, the swordplay of the Renaissance masters, or the swashbuckling systems of enlightenment Europe. While these arts did not survive to the current day a number of written sources exist that can give us an insight into the way in which weapons were historically wielded. Many works on the Art of Defence, from where derive the word fencing, were published in aid of spreading knowledge of the use of arms. The oldest currently known being the Royal Armouries Fechtbuch I.33, an anonymous 13th century sword-and-buckler manual apparently written by a German priest.

Although medieval swords are often dismissed as crude and clumsy weapons these manuals reveal an intricate and extremely effective system of principles and techniques which place great emphasis on control, footwork, point precision, balance, and the use of grappling techniques. These skills were retained and added to through the Renaissance and Enlightenment, with the invention of new weapons and new modes of combat, including the broadsword, sabre, rapier and smallsword, along various forms of dagger and knife combat, wreslting and boxing.