The importance of books 24: Guy Windsor

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 Guy Windsor, who is a well-known international author, fencer and instructor.

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

Yes, because I have literally hundreds of emails from readers and users of my online courses thanking me for making their swordsmanship training possible. Sure, not absolutely everybody needs modern publications (I never had them when I started), but it seems that for most people they make beginning their training much easier, and for many, it keeps them training longer because they can avoid the mistakes and dead end paths, and so keep improving more consistently.

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

Sure. I found my grandpa’s copy of Alfred Hutton’s The Sword and the Centuries in my grandparents’ house when I was a teenager. It was how I found out that the sources exist. Then a while later I found McBane’s The Expert Sword-man’s Companion in the National Library of Scotland, and the rest is, literally, history.

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?

Leaving aside the primary sources (such as Il Fior di Battaglia, Il Gran Simulacro dell’arte e dell’uso della scherma, and The Sword and the Centuries, and so on), here’s a short list of essential reading:

Rory Miller, Meditations on Violence, a brilliant study of how violence works and how martial arts often fail.

Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis, which changed the way I teach physical skills.

Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, which is part memoir, part how-to, explaining how a weedy chess champion became a world-class martial artist.

Ron Hock, The Cutting Edge, which is a comprehensive manual explaining sharpening, including how steel works at the molecular level. It’s essential reading for all sword-users (though it doesn’t really mention swords at all.)

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

I think we are pretty well served already, but I am working on getting good quality facsimiles of important treatises into global distribution, which should help make them much more accessible to the wider world.