The importance of books 21: Lee Smith

Image by Thomas Kelley, from

This is a series of interviews with well-known HEMA practitioners from around the world. The subject is the importance of books in the HEMA community. Personally, I think books are immensely important to the community (and in general!), but I am interested to find out more about how other people see the issue.

This week’s interview is with Lee Smith, who is a well-known international instructor and competitor.

1) Do you feel that modern publications are valuable for the HEMA community? Whether yes or no, can you explain your answer briefly?

Yes, absolutely. There is a point where you see peoples interpretations that work consistently, not only by them but also by their students. Richard Marsden is a great example of this, he is an excellent fighter, as well as he has produced many high quality fencers and instructors. I consider his interpretations of Fiore to be the most effective versions I have come across, as he can apply them while under duress (in tournament) and has many students who can do the same. A book on Fiore’s practice by Marsden explaining his interpretations in detail would be an example of a valuable modern HEMA publication that would benefit a great deal of practitioners. Your study guide Keith is another great example of a helpful modern publication.

2) Was there a book that inspired you to become involved in HEMA, or that inspired you to study HEMA more seriously than before?

Yeah, it was a series of books called Lord of the Rings. I read the hobbit first, but the Lord of the Rings I read when I was about 8 or 9 really fostered my love of martial arts, especially those involving swords. I was already a man by the time I seriously started my study of swordsmanship and really discovered by accident that you could learn these fighting arts. Now, If we were talking video games, it would have been the original Legend of Zelda.

3) Can you list between three and five books that you feel are invaluable to your study of HEMA, and say something briefly about why each book is so important to you?

1) Joachim Meyer, Art of Combat, 1570 (Forgeng’s Translation) – I consider this to be conceptually the most important book in HEMA as it is a systematic approach to training and practice. In our school it is a foundation of our curriculum development and practice of HEMA.

2) Capo Ferro, 1610 (Kirby Translation) – This was my first, and still my favorite rapier treatise. Much of it is very straightforward and effective in its practice.

3) Contemporary Knife Targeting – Christopher Grosz and Michael Janich – I was introduced to this book early on by Steve Huff, and it changed the way I work with weapons. I came from an SCA rapier background where the touch was the norm, and later I came to understand that the practice of fencing to the touch negatively affected my interpretations. This book made me reconsider my theories, interpretations and practice, I make all of my aspiring instructors read this.

4) 1.33 (I have the nice color hard cover edition) – Its one of the oldest if not the oldest manuscript we all have access to, as well as being one of the most complete sword and buckler resources we have.

5) On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society – I believe that this is a fundamentally important book for all martial arts instructors to read.

4) Are there any kinds of publications you would like to see become available to the community?

I would like to see a fully translated Marozzo presented in a similar format to Meyer’s Art of Combat. I think this particular treatise would really transform how many of us think about the practice of HEMA. From the translated pieces I have read along with the seminar we brought Ilkka out for, it is a manuscript that I find very interesting, especially the body of work involving the single handed sword. One day I would like the opportunity to go through it more without having to spend a few years learning Italian.