By Meg Floyd
This week I had the pleasure and privilege of interviewing Roberto Martinez-Loyo, an internationally-known Mexican HEMA instructor and fighter. Both cofounder and primary instructor at the Elite Fencing Club in Mexico City, Roberto is also a professional stuntman, stage combat performer, and the primary developer of reconstructing the fighting techniques used with the Aztec bladed weapon, the maquahuitl.
HN: When did you start your career in HEMA? Did you do anything previously or currently that is related to physical fitness or martial arts?
MARTINEZ-LOYO: I began my career in HEMA in 2003. I first came to HEMA as a stunt performer looking to expand my skills and learn some sword work. My first approach was stage combat, but I became enamored with the actual martial arts and made the transition to HEMA. I am still a professional stunt performer.
HN: Which treatises or manuals did you initially begin studying?
MARTINEZ-LOYO: My first approach was through Fiore’s Flos Duellatorum, but made a switch to the German tradition and Meyer’s Fechtbuch. Since then I have tried to get as many treatises or manuals online as I possibly can, and try to pick up as much as possible from each one.
HN: Which manuals are you focused on studying currently, and which is your personal favorite?
MARTINEZ-LOYO: This is a tough one, as I am constantly cross reading depending on what we are working with at EFC. Some of the ones I’ve been working with recently are Meyer’s Art of Combat, Hutton’s Cold Steel, a Spanish Destreza for Saber manual, and working a little bit from Thibault, but the list is constantly changing.
HN: Let’s talk about your teaching style. What is the method of instruction have you found most helpful in teaching new students?
MARTINEZ-LOYO: I guess that the best way to describe my teaching style is thru Bruce Lee’s words, “Be like water, my friend.” That is, I try to adapt to the situation at hand, since every person is different and learns differently. I try to adapt exercises depending on what the students’ problems in learning a specific technique might be.
HN: Is there anything about the way you teach that is unique or special?
MARTINEZ-LOYO: You would have to ask my students about this one.
HN: Let’s talk about the HEMA scene in Mexico. What is HEMA in Mexico like? Who are the main groups that are active in HEMA from Mexico?
MARTINEZ-LOYO: The HEMA scene in Mexico is rapidly growing. Many of the groups here started out as reenactment groups and have been transitioning towards HEMA. There is still a lot of work to do, but having more HEMA events [each] year has been helping. Because of this constant transition towards HEMA, there is a constant growth in groups active in HEMA in Mexico.
HN: Are there any events coming up in Mexico in 2013? When and where are they going to be?
MARTINEZ-LOYO: The ones that come to mind at the moment are the UAME gathering in February, in Toluca, and Elite Fencing Club’s first Schwertkampf in August in Mexico City—both of them with great international instructors.
HN: As I understand it, you were the first person to begin the study of the system of maquahuitl. What sources did you use for this, and what inspired you? Can you please tell us what techniques are unique to this weapon?
MARTINEZ-LOYO: Within the HEMA scene, I do believe I was the first one to study the maquahuitl. It has been an interesting journey, because there are no surviving sources or treatises on the system, so it has been an interesting development of the technique based upon a few images that have survived from the time and working the weapon. I have been actively involved with different people training to develop safe training weapons to be able to both train and teach the fundamentals of this weapon. The most unique technique to this weapon I can think of is that it is not a killing weapon (though it is quite capable of this), because you actually want to be able to capture live prisoners to sacrifice to Huitziloposhtli (the Sun God [of the Aztecs]).
HN: What are your long term goals in HEMA? What do you hope to contribute to the sport?
MARTINEZ-LOYO: My long and short term goals are pretty much the same at the moment: to be able to participate in as many tournaments as possible and to win some, and to be recognized internationally as an instructor. I would love to be able to travel the world teaching and competing in HEMA. The biggest contribution I hope to leave to the sport is strong, good, and martially sound and clean fighters. I believe that [having] a good clean technique is very important.
HN: What events have you been to and competed in? Of these, which is your favorite event?
MARTINEZ-LOYO: Internationally, I have attended and competed in ISMAC, WMAC 1st international Gathering, Fechtschule America, Combat Con (I won my first tournament there), PNWHEMAAG, [and] SDF. I can’t say anyone of these is my favorite, for each one has had something unique that has made each of these events special. I would love to attend Longpoint and Swordfish in the near future, as well as any other event that may come my way
HN: Which weapons are your primary focuses of study? Which of these do you focus on personally the most, and why?
MARTINEZ-LOYO: EFC has made a conscious effort to become the one school that can cover the most weapons. So far we have focused on longsword, rapier, rapier and dagger, sword and buckler, cane, halberd, knife, unarmed, quarterstaff and obviously maquahuitl, both as only [the] weapon, and with the chimalli (a type of shield). I guess that the one I have focused the most on has been the maquahuitl, for what I explained earlier.
HN: Is there anyone within the HEMA community you have found an inspiration? If so, who are they, and why did they inspire you?
MARTINEZ-LOYO: Yes, there have been many people I have found as inspiration in HEMA and WMA. People like Scott Brown, Maestro Martinez, Doc Lennox, Steve Huff, Stephen Fick, Axel Peterson, Lee Smith, Omar Rodriguez Zaragoza, amongst so many others. Basically, people who have made their HEMA dreams a reality, and have made a living of HEMA or left their mark in HEMA.
HN: What advice would you give to the novice just starting out in HEMA? What qualities do you look for in a good student?
MARTINEZ-LOYO: The first advice I would give someone who is just starting is that if you [are going] to do things right, you need the right equipment. Yes, it’s a bit more pricey, but your safe-being is worth much more. The most important qualities I look for in a good student are passion, concentration, dedication, and [the] desire to learn beyond what’s taught at the club. The best students are the ones that make you a better instructor, and that force you to reach higher levels to give them more and better techniques. I always tell my students at tournaments that their success is their doing, their failure is my fault, and I don’t want them to fail.