In my last post I wrote about the Fight Camp I attended a couple of weeks ago and some people asked some questions so I thought I would explain a bit more about my interest in Western Martial Arts. WMA or Historical Fencing or Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) as it is also known is a distinctly different from Eastern Martial Arts, having originated in Europe and having it's own styles and techniques. It is the practice of armed, and sometimes unarmed combat using a variety of weapons. In very simple terms, it is learning how to fight and defend yourself using swords, daggers, shields, sticks and other weapons.
As I said before, I have been training now for about 18 months and am still very much a novice. I heard about a group of like-minded people who were setting up a club and jumped at the chance when I was asked it I wanted to join. WMA is not easy to learn. It takes a lot of dedicated practise and study of historical texts to learn and then master the techniques. Part of the difficulty is that many of the techniques fell out of use in the West with the invention of the firearm. Traditionally, each school of swordsmanship taught their techniques through word of mouth so much of what was common knowledge has been lost. Luckily, many of the masters recorded their fighting systems and these are used by various WMA groups.
The club I belong to is called the Academy of Historical Fencing. We train in many schools of historical fencing and use a variety of weaponry such as rapier, broadsword, longsword, sword and dagger, sword and shield and bow staffs. We almost exclusively use steel weapons to train with which are blunted, although the 'newbies' use Shinai (bamboo swords) at first until they get enough armour (padded jackets and leather gauntlets as well as fencing masks) to train safely. The pic above is of one of my first swords and is of a 17th Century Hangar which is a particular type of single handed sword. It is mostly used with a companion weapon such as dagger or buckler ( a small shield). The pic below is of a sword I have recently purchased which is a Pappenheimer Rapier (named after a great swordsman) and is the style of swordsmanship most akin to modern day sport fencing which has it's origins in these schools of swordsmanship.
People who join the club are from a huge variety of backgrounds and there are a few clubs in the UK and a number in Europe and the US. Some people have backgrounds in Eastern Martial Arts and some people who join have done re-enacting. This differs from WMA in that re-enactors recreate battles, usually for the entertainment of spectators and will often also recreate the historical living conditions through researching the period. Although they practise some aspects of WMA, the battles they recreate are sometimes staged and based on a known outcome (i.e. who is going to win). Students of WMA however, study the fighting techniques as an historical competitive martial art.
The next picture is of my first longsword which is a two handed sword and is currently the system I am learning (specifically, from the German school of Longsword). This is also a blunted sword (like all the ones we train with). Sharp swords are only ever used for cutting competitions, like the one using bottles of water in the video on my last post of fight camp. Fight Camp is an annual event where different WMA clubs get together to train. It is a great experience!
I hope that explains a bit more about it and I suspect you might have two more questions. The answers are: yes I do get bruises and yes I probably am a little bit crazy. You can blame my old junior school teacher who introduced me to The Hobbit when I was 9 years old. Ever since then I wanted to learn to use a sword and yes, one of my swords is called 'Sting' :) The video below is of two of our members sparring. I hope you enjoy watching it!