The "accuracy" of HEMA

Tony Dismukes

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Is HEMA accurate?

I mean I assume there is nobody learning to be a peasant for example.

Which still doesn't necessarily matter. As an inaccurate example still has merit. It is why we have myths.
Drop bear asked this question in the latest Bujinkan thread and I thought it deserved an answer. Since it's not directly relevant to discussion of the Bujinkan, I pulled it out for a separate post.

To begin with, HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts, for anyone who doesn't know) is not about re-enactment or play acting or passing on the societal values of a medieval knight or peasant or burgher, so that part of the question is irrelevant.

In general, HEMA is concerned with learning to fight using specific weapons and martial systems that were used by Europeans during an historical period ranging from the 14th century (the earliest treatise we have to work with comes from around 1300) to the 19th century. Most of these systems aren't directly applicable to modern application, since dueling with swords has inexplicably fallen out of fashion. :)So why do we do it? Because it's fun. Some people like throwing balls through hoops, we like hitting our friends with swords.

What separates HEMA from LARPing is a couple of concerns. First, we want our practice to reflect the way historical practitioners of these systems actually fought, rather than something we just dream up from our imagination. Second, we want to develop actual functional skill. So if we are studying a sword art then we would want to be able to effectively defend ourselves with a sword if we were attacked by an opponent who was also wielding a sword.

So, how do we get to that "accurate" practice? It's a multi-step, iterative process with a lot of problems to solve.

Problem: how do we know what these historical martial practices actually were? There are only a small handful of surviving "living" historical European martial lineages handed down from teacher to teacher. Those present a slightly different set of challenges, so we'll set those aside for the moment. The primary starting point for most modern HEMA practice are treatises written by fencing instructors who were teaching these arts at the time. For example, my club practices the art laid out in a fencing manual written in 1570 by Joachim Meyer, a professional fencer and master-of-arms for the Duke of Schwerin.

Problem: How do we know whether the writers of these treatises actually knew what they were talking about and weren't just peddling medieval bullshido? We have a few possibilities. We can look at the historical record to see what it known about the writer's life and reputation. Presumably it would have been harder to maintain one's status as a respected and influential fencing instructor while peddling bullshido in an era when people actually dueled and fought on the battlefield with real swords regularly than in the modern era. Some of the later sources were actual military manuals (infantry and cavalry saber, in particular). It seems likely these were based on actual battlefield experience. We can compare the information in a given treatise to what is taught in other contemporary treatises and what is depicted in contemporary artwork. Finally, we can test whether the methods taught seem to work effectively in sparring. (More on this later.)

Problem: Do we understand the context in which a given art would have been applied? A system developed for unarmored civilians dueling to first blood will work very differently from a system developed for armored knights on the battlefield. Here it is important to look at both internal clues from the treatises being studied and external historical research concerning the forms of violent conflict that would likely be encountered by the target audience in the time and place the treatise was written.

Problem: How do we know whether we are interpreting the material in the treatises correctly? Are we following the steps correctly, using the right body mechanics? Are we missing important details which were left out of the written instruction? This is a difficult problem, especially for some of the older manuals which are far removed from modern pedagogy. The solution has pretty much been an exercise in widely distributed, open source, experimental archeology. In other words, a bunch of people around the world have spent the last few decades studying the manuals, coming up with ideas on what might have been meant, sparring with each other to discover how well those ideas work, then comparing notes, tweaking, adding, or discarding ideas, and then repeating the whole process over and over. Many practitioners have backgrounds in other systems which may help with insights (FMA, kenjutsu, kendo, modern Olympic fencing, etc), but those insights are tested against both practice and comparison to the historical texts.

Problem: Any sort of reasonably safe sparring or competition that we might use to validate our technique will necessarily have differences from actual application with deadly weapons. There are psychological differences (you behave differently when your life isn't really on the line). There are physical differences (a blunt training sword doesn't behave exactly like a sharp blade). How do we make sure we don't fall into the trap of, for example, creating a game of tag where competitors blithely run in to score a point with an ineffective tap while ignoring the likelihood of a lethal counterblow? There are a lot of possible ways to go wrong here, so there are a lot of potential solutions. For example, we can practice cutting objects with actual sharp reproduction swords and then work to make sure that our body mechanics for landing blows in sparring matches the body mechanics that we use for real cutting. We can experiment with sparring and tournament rules which reward behaviors which would be desirable in a real life or death fight. We can do experiments to discover how well certain historical weapons do or do not penetrate the historical armor of the time. Some advanced practitioners have experimented practicing partnered techniques with live blades, in order to better understand the "bind" which happens when edge-to-edge contact causes sword blades to "stick" to each other rather than sliding freely.

Problem: Certain weapons and fighting systems don't really lend themselves to any sort of reasonably safe sparring practice. Most HEMA practitioners work within systems that we can safely simulate with blunted training weapons and good protective gear - longsword, rapier, saber, or sword and buckler. That doesn't work so well for something like greatsword or cavalry vs infantry. In those cases we can drill the techniques from the manuals. We can do some exercises which should develop relevant skills. (For example, you can check out YouTube for the sport of "tent pegging", which is derived from the use of cavalry lance or sword against unmounted troops.) However we ultimately have to accept that we just can't develop the same degree of confidence in our skill or understanding of the technique for those systems.

Problem: Many, indeed most, martial systems and practices were never written down in the first place. (Or if they were, the manuscripts have been lost.) In this case we can examine the archeological and historical evidence - surviving artifacts (weapons and armor), artwork, remains with evidence of battle wounds, and then engage in "experimental archeology" to come up with potentially plausible theories on how those weapons might have been used. However, once again we have to accept that we really don't have a way to know how accurate those theories might be.

Bottom line: Drop bear asks "Is HEMA accurate?" Well, we have individuals who can fence with a blunted training sword with matches the weight and proportions of an historical sword, using techniques and principles laid out in historical manuals, and against 99+% of opponents they will be able to land what would be lethal blows without getting hit in return. These same individuals can also use sharp historical reproduction swords and cut through solid objects better than 99+% of the general public would be able to, using the same techniques and body mechanics. There are also a bunch of less talented practitioners studying the same historical texts, learning from the examples laid out by those leaders in the field, and testing ourselves with regular sparring and competition. Is it historically accurate? Well, in the absence of a time machine allowing us to go back and watch medieval fighters in person, we're working towards being as accurate as possible. The best we can do is check whether our practice matches the historical sources and whether it holds up to freestyle pressure testing.
 

jayoliver00

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What separates HEMA from LARPing is a couple of concerns. First, we want our practice to reflect the way historical practitioners of these systems actually fought, rather than something we just dream up from our imagination. Second, we want to develop actual functional skill. So if we are studying a sword art then we would want to be able to effectively defend ourselves with a sword if we were attacked by an opponent who was also wielding a sword.

See, now this is getting snobby with the HEMA. That's like saying LARPERs can't possibly figure out how to swing a fake or real sword around. Plenty of Larpers have formal training. Kind of like saying Kung-Fu can't work in MMA w/o formal MMA training; when a Kung-Fu style kick is still a kick. While it's a lot easier with a blade since you just need to just touch lightly to cause massive damage or even death.

Then there are other weapons such as mace, spear, flail, dagger, etc. It ain't rocket science.

I'm a LARPER, never taken any formal classes; just athletic and fast. Intermediate level at 3 years. Anyone in HEMA, etc. want to spar with sparring weapons? I've got knives, short swords, great swords, clubs, flails and up 8 ft spears.
 

jks9199

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See, now this is getting snobby with the HEMA. That's like saying LARPERs can't possibly figure out how to swing a fake or real sword around. Plenty of Larpers have formal training. Kind of like saying Kung-Fu can't work in MMA w/o formal MMA training; when a Kung-Fu style kick is still a kick. While it's a lot easier with a blade since you just need to just touch lightly to cause massive damage or even death.

Then there are other weapons such as mace, spear, flail, dagger, etc. It ain't rocket science.

I'm a LARPER, never taken any formal classes; just athletic and fast. Intermediate level at 3 years. Anyone in HEMA, etc. want to spar with sparring weapons? I've got knives, short swords, great swords, clubs, flails and up 8 ft spears.
He's not saying that LARPERs can't have good technique or ideas... but that HEMA and LARP have different focuses and purposes. Just like traditional martial arts and competitive combative sports. Overlap, definitely, but different goals and different routes. HEMA is about looking at how the weapons were used, and understanding that from a more scholarly basis. Most LARP I've seen are about playing with their simulated weapons and winning simulated battles, under their rule set. A LARPER fight might hold his arm back out of play if it's percieved to have been "cut off" by a blow-- a HEMA practitioner will say that losing that arm means he's dead -- it's a hard stop.
 
D

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In general, HEMA is concerned with learning to fight using specific weapons and martial systems that were used by Europeans during an historical period ranging from the 14th century
Thats part of re enacting to me. If the group in question does a combat display or portrays combat, it does HEMA with it. Theyd just wear peroid accurate armour etc as opposed to wearing modern armour. Most armoured HEMA practise tends to come from re enactment groups as far as i know. This is in a similar vein to if you did a WW2 U.K rifleman impression, youd learn how to shoot, and the doctrine and tactics of the U.K in WW2.


Im sort of ehh on the LARP point, dont see its need for inclusion unless you do HEMA attached to renacting (re enacting can technically be called LARP at times, so can technically any in person RP) If the LARP is combat heavy, it would reward getting good at its rules for combat(like a sport), now standards how realism can vary but most (especially if combat is a big part) should require you to hit the person with some form of weapon to win. Now thats the fundementals of combat right there, hitting them while not getting hit. By that logic some (cant give a actual number) would seek out, do, or be willing to do a martial art of some description that fits in the combat system of their LARP, as most are medievil and before in terms of weapons, here comes HEMA.

There are some videos about HEMA people talking about LARPers learning, and LARPers talking about doing HEMA etc.


Thats about all i got, dont really disagree with anything just saw those two points as something i needed to comment on.

Also, your all NERDS! :p
 

jayoliver00

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He's not saying that LARPERs can't have good technique or ideas... but that HEMA and LARP have different focuses and purposes.
I disagree.

He said, "rather than something we just dream up from our imagination", lol this is kind of underhanded....around 6 on scale of 0-10.

"Second, we want to develop actual functional skill", this is blatantly 9/10, daayum; basically implying that LARPERs have no "actual functional skill".

"So if we are studying a sword art then we would want to be able to effectively defend ourselves with a sword if we were attacked by an opponent who was also wielding a sword." ....I mean c'mon, how else would I interpret this? 9/10 on the underhanded meter :p

Just like traditional martial arts and competitive combative sports. Overlap, definitely, but different goals and different routes.

LARPING's main goal is to cut, stab, or club the other guy into a make-believe death; no different than HEMA's sparring with fake weapons.

HEMA is about looking at how the weapons were used, and understanding that from a more scholarly basis.

So now you're talking about FORMS, just like Kung-Fu forms vs. Street/Prison Boxing Mike Tyson before he was formally trained by D'Amata. Tyson was around 14 w/no training, just lots of fights & robberies. How would the average Kung-Fu 14 y/o strip mall Kung-Fu dojo kid fare against him?

Similar w/myself; I have no formal training, just lots of LARPING. I bet I'll beat a lot of HEMA people at the 3 year training level.


Most LARP I've seen are about playing with their simulated weapons and winning simulated battles, under their rule set.
A LARPER fight might hold his arm back out of play if it's percieved to have been "cut off" by a blow-- a HEMA practitioner will say that losing that arm means he's dead -- it's a hard stop.

Short answer would be, "OK"; we can also hard stop after losing an arm should we spar.
 
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LARPING's main goal is to cut, stab, or club the other guy into a make-believe death; no different than HEMA's sparring with fake weapons.
Depends on the LARP rules, but if its combat focused it should do that. And given i had somone describe sparring to me as "tag", im pretty sure any that require contact are good and dont let you game it in places.

It really depends if they treat it as you have to do XYZ, as opposed to roll for XYZ or not. And to what degree they allow it.
 

Blindside

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The overlap between HEMA and LARP is large. It should be absolutely unsurprising to anyone that nerds who want to learn how to swordfight might also be nerds who swung a boffer a time or two hundred. In the US a large percentage of the senior HEMA practitioners in the US were probably involved in the SCA (read biggest LARP in the US even if they don't admit it is a LARP.)

But the point is that the technique is that if you are actually trying to investigate history you need some sort of criteria to say what was accurate to the period. In this case it is what written documentation exists and what archeological and historical sources give us. For some eras reference material is almost non-existent, (11th century and older) and for some eras it is very detailed (say 18th century and newer).

In my area the SCAdians are the better rapier fighters probably because they have been studying and fighting the material longer than the HEMA guys have been and the SCA rapier sparring translates over pretty directly. This would be sharp contrast to the heavy armored combat where the historical technique is very different because unsurprisingly the HEMA technique was all about hitting the other guy where the armor isn't and that is rather.... unsafe for play.
 

gpseymour

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See, now this is getting snobby with the HEMA. That's like saying LARPERs can't possibly figure out how to swing a fake or real sword around. Plenty of Larpers have formal training. Kind of like saying Kung-Fu can't work in MMA w/o formal MMA training; when a Kung-Fu style kick is still a kick. While it's a lot easier with a blade since you just need to just touch lightly to cause massive damage or even death.

Then there are other weapons such as mace, spear, flail, dagger, etc. It ain't rocket science.

I'm a LARPER, never taken any formal classes; just athletic and fast. Intermediate level at 3 years. Anyone in HEMA, etc. want to spar with sparring weapons? I've got knives, short swords, great swords, clubs, flails and up 8 ft spears.
That you can use a weapon or implement doesn't mean you're using it in an historically accurate way, which is what Tony was referring to as accuracy.
 

jayoliver00

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That you can use a weapon or implement doesn't mean you're using it in an historically accurate way, which is what Tony was referring to as accuracy.

I disagree.

While yes, he does say that HEMA is trying to replicate Historical Euro techniques; he's also said,

"Second, we want to develop actual functional skill",

"So if we are studying a sword art then we would want to be able to effectively defend ourselves with a sword if we were attacked by an opponent who was also wielding a sword."

He's still implying that LARPING does not offer such legit sword techniques, skills nor would they be effective if attacked by swordsmen.
 

jayoliver00

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Depends on the LARP rules, but if its combat focused it should do that. And given i had somone describe sparring to me as "tag", im pretty sure any that require contact are good and dont let you game it in places.

True, there are LARP games where you use magic fireballs, etc. like in that funny video a long time ago.

The one that I play is called Dagorhir and it's not like that; it's full contact and allows grappling & kicking at shields. I've kicked dudes, airborne 5ft backwards (that were charging me). Had 1 leg KO with a full swing of a 6ft glaive. This guy was a 220ish lb. cop, who's also a BJJ blue belt that had like 4-5 gold medals on his FB page, so he was not weak. He was kicking my butt with his Escrima skills when we were going sticks on sticks (7/10) so I cheated w/bigger weapon. I felt horrible though.

Light hits can be rejected as causing damage by the guy you hit. So if these weapons were real, these hits will certainly kill people with such force required for Dagorhir; esp. when a sword slash lightly can already cause massive damage. If the glaive was real, I think his leg or both legs, would be chopped off. And I have no training in rocket science; just an oaf, swinging a foam blade attached to a pole, which beats 2 FMA sticks wielded by someone who was clearly trained in FMA.
 
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gpseymour

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I disagree.

While yes, he does say that HEMA is trying to replicate Historical Euro techniques; he's also said,

"Second, we want to develop actual functional skill",

"So if we are studying a sword art then we would want to be able to effectively defend ourselves with a sword if we were attacked by an opponent who was also wielding a sword."

He's still implying that LARPING does not offer such legit sword techniques, skills nor would they be effective if attacked by swordsmen.
Some LARPing doesn't. Some does. Perhaps he was drawing the distinction that HEMA (as he sees it, at least) should always have that as part of the focus.
 

jayoliver00

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Some LARPing doesn't. Some does. Perhaps he was drawing the distinction that HEMA (as he sees it, at least) should always have that as part of the focus.

It seems like LARPING has gotten a bad rap from that "fireball, fireball" nerd video a long time ago. So maybe he hasn't been doing HEMA long enough to know that there's a ton of overlap, like the other guy mentioned with SCA. I know of LARPING groups such as Belgarath, Darkon, Amtgard and Dagorhir; and all of them are dominantly about sword fighting. 50% of these Nerds are pretty athletic and most of them take their skills seriously.
 
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That you can use a weapon or implement doesn't mean you're using it in an historically accurate way, which is what Tony was referring to as accuracy.
Didnt i literally get moaned at in another thread for stating the key element in HEMA is the H part? and if you dont like the H part HEMA's probbly not for you?


LARPs pretty good martial practise though, if you get a good one its a good place to test out what you have learnt in a sandbox much like real life, as opposed to more sterile conditions, granted no one sgoing to grab a rock and smash your head in, but no ones going to do that in boxing, or let you die in either.

Role palying in general is pretty good, it should help you practise many skills.
 

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I think there's some role play involved in a lot of martial arts. More in some than others. If you wear a costume that is form over function, you're playacting at least a little. Doesn't mean you can't do some stuff, but it suggests we should be self aware and not elitist about LARPing.
 

gpseymour

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It seems like LARPING has gotten a bad rap from that "fireball, fireball" nerd video a long time ago. So maybe he hasn't been doing HEMA long enough to know that there's a ton of overlap, like the other guy mentioned with SCA. I know of LARPING groups such as Belgarath, Darkon, Amtgard and Dagorhir; and all of them are dominantly about sword fighting. 50% of these Nerds are pretty athletic and most of them take their skills seriously.
Again, nobody has said that nobody in LARPing takes it seriously, nor that none of them develop skills. There are some who do not (which is probably where LARPing gets the largely undeserved reputation).

You're reacting very strongly to what folks have said fairly blandly. Nobody is attacking you.
 

gpseymour

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Didnt i literally get moaned at in another thread for stating the key element in HEMA is the H part? and if you dont like the H part HEMA's probbly not for you?


LARPs pretty good martial practise though, if you get a good one its a good place to test out what you have learnt in a sandbox much like real life, as opposed to more sterile conditions, granted no one sgoing to grab a rock and smash your head in, but no ones going to do that in boxing, or let you die in either.

Role palying in general is pretty good, it should help you practise many skills.
LARPing can be a place to work on and develop skills, when done among folks who work to seriously develop skills for valid application (rather than just for show and fun looks). Not all LARPers take that approach.
 

lklawson

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See, now this is getting snobby with the HEMA. That's like saying LARPERs can't possibly figure out how to swing a fake or real sword around. Plenty of Larpers have formal training. Kind of like saying Kung-Fu can't work in MMA w/o formal MMA training; when a Kung-Fu style kick is still a kick. While it's a lot easier with a blade since you just need to just touch lightly to cause massive damage or even death.

Then there are other weapons such as mace, spear, flail, dagger, etc. It ain't rocket science.

I'm a LARPER, never taken any formal classes; just athletic and fast. Intermediate level at 3 years. Anyone in HEMA, etc. want to spar with sparring weapons? I've got knives, short swords, great swords, clubs, flails and up 8 ft spears.
Dude, you are reading way too much into it. Stop looking for ways to be insulted. That wasn't Tony's intent.

Peace favor your sword,
Kirk
 

lklawson

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Thats part of re enacting to me. If the group in question does a combat display or portrays combat, it does HEMA with it. Theyd just wear peroid accurate armour etc as opposed to wearing modern armour. Most armoured HEMA practise tends to come from re enactment groups as far as i know. This is in a similar vein to if you did a WW2 U.K rifleman impression, youd learn how to shoot, and the doctrine and tactics of the U.K in WW2.
It's more than just that. What you wear affects how you have to fight just like terrain. There's a reason that footwork looks different between arts that evolved for indoor use and those that were developed in mountainous areas or rice patties.

You want to really know how a 18th Century smallsword fencer fought, then you need to wear the same sort of shoes he wears, not modern sneakers.

Peace favor your sword,
Kirk
 

lklawson

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Similar w/myself; I have no formal training, just lots of LARPING. I bet I'll beat a lot of HEMA people at the 3 year training level.
It's just like any other martial art. There are people who have decades of time in the art who can't actually fight. I have a SCA friend who absolutely tore up a HEMA tournament. Totally schooled them. I have a HEMA smallsword acquaintance who was totally dominated by an Olympic style sport fencer. Because you still have to spar it out and because athleticism and genetics are still highly important. I'm sure you've seen Nth degree "black belts" that couldn't defend against a street thug, right?

Look, I think you're getting twisted around the axle here. So you can fight. And you're upset that someone might think you're not using historically accurate methods? Why do you care?

Peace favor your sword,
Kirk
 
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