What is HEMA? HEMA stands for Historical European Martial Arts. Hema started way back in late middle ages as a form of gladiatorial combat. Very little has survived in these early peroids of HEMA and therefore, most look to 1300 to 1800’s where German and Italian schools blossomed in the late middle ages. Arts such as fencing are usually included in HEMA arts and it is an ever growing past time for many worldwide.
In the middle ages, several types of HEMA combat were taught alongside each other. unarmed grappling (Kampfringen or abrazare), dagger (Degen or daga, often of the rondel variety), longknife (Messer) or Dussack, half- or quarterstaff, pole arms, longsword (langes Schwert, spada longa, spadone), and combat in plate armour (Harnischfechten or armazare), both on foot and on horseback.
In Italy, the 16th century is a period of big change. It opens with the two treatises of Bolognese masters Antonio Manciolino and Achille Marozzo, who describe a variation of the eclectic knightly arts of the previous century. From sword and buckler to sword and dagger, sword alone to two-handed sword, from polearms to wrestling (though absent in Manciolino), early 16th-century Italian fencing reflects the versatility that a martial artist of the time was supposed to achieve.
In the 18th century Late Baroque / Rococo period, the French style of fencing with the smallsword and later with the foil (fleuret), in origin a training weapon for smallsword fencing.
By the year 1715, the rapier had been largely replaced by the lighter smallsword throughout most of Europe, although treatments of the former continued to be included by authors of the time.
Attempts at reconstructing the discontinued traditions of European systems of combat began in the late 19th century, with a revival of interest in the Middle Ages. The movement was led in England by the soldier, writer, antiquarian and swordsman, Alfred Hutton.
Hutton learned fencing at the school founded by Domenico Angelo. In 1862, he organized in his regiment stationed in India the Cameron Fencing Club, for which he prepared his first work, a 12-page booklet entitled Swordsmanship.
After returning from India in 1865, Hutton focused on the study and revival of older fencing systems and schools. He began tutoring groups of students in the art of ‘ancient swordplay’ at a club attached to the London Rifle Brigade School of Arms in the 1880s. In 1889, Hutton published his most influential work Cold Steel: A Practical Treatise on the Sabre, which presented the historical method of military sabre use on foot, combining the 18th century English backsword with modern Italian duelling sabre.
Since 1991, there have emerged flourishing Historical European Martial Arts communities in Europe, North America, Australia and the wider Anglosphere. These groups are engaged in attempting to reconstruct Historical European Martial Arts using various training methods. Although the focus generally is on the martial arts of Medieval and Renaissance masters, nineteenth and early twentieth century martial arts teachers are also studied and their systems are reconstructed, including Edward William Barton-Wright, the founder of Bartitsu; combat savate and stick fighting master Pierre Vigny; London-based boxer and fencer Rowland George Allanson-Winn; French journalist and self-defence enthusiast Jean Joseph-Renaud; and British quarterstaff expert Thomas McCarthy.
Today, companies such as Rawlings – Red Dragon Armoury make HEMA swords that can be used safely in a combat environment. Developed in conjunction with Dave Rawlings, founder of the London Longsword Academy and the HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) community, their new line of polymer sparring swords is rapidly finding favor with European broadsword sparring enthusiasts. Made in the UK, the swords are crafted in a special-purpose high-impact polymer and provide a more realistic replacement for the wooden waster for drilling and pell work, at the same time providing a safer alternative for the steel blunt in contact sparring when used with appropriate protection. This range of swords is now standard in three of the largest HEMA competitions in the world and is constantly being adopted for other smaller competitions and tourneys.
We carry the full line of Rawlings HEMA swords and gear.