Last week I posted an article called On Armoured Combat and Battle of the Nations. This article generated some discussion, particularly on the HEMA Alliance Facebook page, and something that several people said was that the article shouldn’t have been shared there, given that it was not about HEMA.
So I thought it might be worth writing a follow up article to ask: exactly what is HEMA? Before I start, I am less interested in giving a definite answer to that question, and more interested in problematising how the term HEMA is used and raising questions about what is HEMA, so that everyone can come to their own conclusions.
It is worth looking at definitions of HEMA that have already been written.
“Historical European martial arts is a neologism describing martial arts of European origin, used particularly to refer to arts formerly practiced, but having since died out or evolved into very different forms. Modern reconstructions of some of these arts exist and are practiced today.”
Wiktenauer, Historical European Martial Arts
“Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) refers to documentable methods of armed and unarmed personal and group combat of European origin. The term HEMA is most often used for the reconstruction of medieval martial arts, because no systematic manuals for combat have been discovered earlier than the late middle ages. However, the scope of the HEMA alliance extends to all martial studies that come from historical Europe, from the Roman gladius to the Fairbairn-Sykes knife of World War II.”
HEMA Alliance, About HEMA
“Europe produced a remarkable literature of combat, from many countries, over the course of several centuries…Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) is founded on the premise that although these systems fell out of use, or mutated into something different, it is possible to reassemble them. This is approached through scrupulous attention to the texts, physical experimentation, and study of their cultural context; without dismissing insights from elsewhere, such as modern training methods, pedagogy, biomechanics, or other martial arts. There is no dressing up – the central aim is to understand the historical systems. Therefore fighting with historical weapons by itself is not HEMA. By definition HEMA is practice based upon historical sources, hence the fundamental importance of the texts.”
London HEMA Open, What is HEMA?