All Swords All The Time – Updates Tuesdays and Fridays

Op/Ed: Pathways to HEMA


by Meg Floyd


It has become apparent tome from my travels and relationships within the historical fencing world that there is usually a particular path that calls a fencer–either from natural inclination or proclivity–into deeper study of the Art. The best among us embody all three to some extent, but you can usually tell which pathway for a fencer is “dominant.” Really this has more to do with how the fencer defines himself (the point of his study of HEMA) more than anything else, and is usually revealed by what the fencer spends their time/resources on and how they portray themselves to the wider community.

I should be clear here when I say I am referring mainly to fencers involved in the wider international community who travel to events and are usually regarded as being at “instructor” level (whatever that means). The “path” of the fencer is also not always immediately apparent, and in my opinion the discovery of this by the fencer for themselves is intrinsic to progressing along the path from novice to serious fencing student.

I should also take pains to point out that, despite the tendency of people to want to render judgment, moral and otherwise, on people in seemingly opposing paths to their own within the community, this is a form of tribalism, and I don’t think it’s conducive to enriching the community of HEMA as a whole. A lot of it has to do with identification politics (“What I do is HEMA, what you do isn’t”, or “This is how I want HEMA to look in the future, and you’re endangering it!”). People are, understandably, very passionate about this. However, I do not render moral judgment here on the superiority of one path over another, and I would discourage others from doing so. All three paths form a trinity upon which the future of HEMA rests. Only through the love engendered by finding their true path can a fencer muster the endurance to weather the physical, intellectual, emotional, and financial demands over the number of years it takes to become a true student of historical fencing. This may not be true for every person, but it’s how I found my way, and likely it bears some vague resemblance to the experience of some others.

The pathways are:

1) Researcher/scholar

2) Fighter/tournament champion

3) Coach/instructor

For me, it was the path of coach/instructor that really drew me deeper into the study of the Art. Out of necessity more than anything else did I start teaching others at my club, and it was through striving to improve my own grasp on pedagogical theory in the context of Meyer (the manual my club happens to study) that my understanding increased and significant improvements in my own fencing occurred. Wanting to be a coach is also what allowed me to fall in love with the Art on my own terms and “arrange the work in itself”, in Meyer’s words. I previously had thought my path of pursuing HEMA was exclusively that of tournament fighter, a mistake that was nearly fatal to my practice because it did not provide the fulfillment necessary to face the very real rigors of pursuing HEMA on a serious level. I had my first HEMA class in 2007, have been engaged in rigorous study of HEMA since 2012, and have been competing since 2011, but I would not say I truly began learning what the Art is about, what I’m after in it, until this past January, in 2014. It was a humbling and profound realization. I would not call myself a great fencer or an expert on anything at this point, but it was a step that was taken in the right direction, like my eyes being opened, in the sense of, Oh, that’s what you’ve all been going on about all these years. And it’s awesome.

What about you, HEMA? What’s your path?


2 thoughts on “Op/Ed: Pathways to HEMA

  1. Great article, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I would consider me to be still at the beginning of my path. I started doing HEMA in 2012, but in short two years I figured out that I want primarily go into research. That doesn’t mean that I will stop doing sparring, of course. But I’m not a person who enjoys competitions very much, so tournaments are not really my cup of tea. Luckily, as a student of History and hopefully someone working in a museum very soon I had and will have many opportunities to work with the sources as part of my job. I hope that I can combine my hobby and my job one day – something I dreamed of my entire life. All in all, the question which path in HEMA I will choose was not so difficult for me.
    All the best, Daniel.

  2. I would like to add a path! 🙂

    Martial artist/performer.

    The one who studies the art for it’s (technical, motoric, precise, choreographic) beauty and wishes to master it in order to inspire and educate the world around him/her by performance of martial expression.

    Quite a few groups incorporate the showmanship element to some extent in their demonstrations. Some groups and HEMArtists started out as show fighters. Few take HEMA showmanship as their main path, especially since it’s sometimes regarded as some kind of pseudo art. And yet they have an important role to play when it comes to making HEMA rise out of obscurity.

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