The importance of books 26: Jacopo Penso

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 Jacopo Penso, who is an accomplished competitor 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?

Absolutely yes. Even if they can be not strictly “necessary” for our daily practice in the gym, as a community of practitioners and scholars, we need to increase the amount of publications we can rely on. In my opinion, what we called HEMA is a wide concept including several aspects. One of those is  surely the research (of new sources, techniques, methods, etc.) and, like in every research field, I think HEMA needs a growing bibliography. This will be also helpful in terms of sending a correct images of professionalism and reliability, about our discipline and to let people know we are not “just flailing swords”. Moreover a modern literature can be our “written memory”, allowing young people and next generations to know, when direct transmission is not possible, previous attempts, successes and failings in the study of the Art.

I have probably more than one way to reply to this question.

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

I’m now doing HEMA, surely because of the books of my childhood about mythology (mostly adaptations): first the ancient myths of the mediterranean culture, especially Iliad and Odyssey, then also celtic and nordic tales and sagas, like Ulster cycle and Kalevala. The fascination for those ancient stories and their ideals of hero and warrior deeply inspired me. Then, of course, my adolescence reading of fantasy romances. Moving closer to my personal travel into historical fencing, probably the Fior di Battaglia publication by Massimo Malipiero brought me directly on the study of the sources, helping me to search for my own answer and helping me in the move from the reenactment to the HEMA approach. And finally, the third “turning point” in my fencing practice was related to German Longsword Study Guide (no, it’s not  a captatio benevolentiae for you, Keith), which was the first text where I found an useful elaboration and interpretation of the sources and a concrete help for my understanding of the discipline. I still recommend it as good introductory reading to interested fencers in our German longsword classes.

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?

Achille Marozzo’s Opera Nova (1536) has become one of my greatest inspiration in the last year and half. My knowledge of the entire opera is still partial and I find it very valuable but also very difficult to understand, so it is for the moment one of my principal source of study and challenge. The transcription of the Anonimo Bolognese is also precious to me, I’m very thankful to the guys from Sala d’Arme Achille Marozzo for its discovery and publication. The introduction is full of very useful concepts and thoughts and probably one of the richest, a conviction I share with a scholar and friend like Ilkka Hartikainen.

The Art of Combat: a German Martial treatise of 1570 by J. Forgeng is one of the finest fencing book I have and will be surely a good material for future studies.

I was also gifted by a precious copy of CAINO, the book published by Roberto Gotti, which is a very valuable and inspiring publication focused on north Italy renaissance weapon features, production and analysis.

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

Surely there is a lack of valid technical publications right now. We have several transcriptions or copies of treatises but elaborations of those sources, interpretations and hypotheses on the martial system of each author are usually outdated or very simple and limited (with obviously some good exceptions). Maybe the written text hardly adapt to a continuously updated practice, more fitted in a digital media like a blog site or YouTube channel, but I’m confident about the possibility of more technical analysis, elaborations and comparisons in the near future. I’d also like to see more specific, maybe peer reviewed, literature about training and teaching HEMA.

On the other hand some publications about historical fencing and HEMA in a general and introductory way could be precious; often people ask us about something not specifically related to one treatise, which is hard to find right now.

Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at where I post regularly.