The importance of books 30: Ilkka Hartikainen

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 Ilkka Hartikainen, 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?

Be it scholars of history and source literature or practical martial artists (or preferably both), it is imperative for the members of the HEMA community to publish their work. While I do feel that currently the community is experiencing a drop in the importance of well edited, printed works, they have in the past been one of the key ways of spreading knowledge. Even in the early days of the current HEMA movement, I believe internet played a role more in connecting people and getting them started rather than providing deeper understanding of the art.

Videos and various online formats (even I have an online course in the works for the sidesword) compete with books in this field, but so far I still believe a worn-out book traveling inside the training bag is the most dear companion to a serious HEMAist – or at least next to the sword itself.

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

When I first started HEMA a decade and a half ago, I had three books to guide me: Christian Tobler’s Secrets of German Swordsmanship, John Clements’ Medieval Swordsmanship and Eyal Yanilov’s book on Krav Maga. While these were relatively randomly picked, the Secrets gave me access to the source material, Medieval Swordsmanship was inspiring in a creative way (with all the diagrams, ramblings and overall craziness) and the Krav Maga book gave me a practical system and a format for practicing it. In a way, these three books still represent what HEMA means to myself: study of the sources together with creative freedom, ordered into a practical and efficient style of fencing.

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?

The most important books for me are the original sources and their facsimiles, transcriptions or translations. My absolute favorite is the Anonimo Bolognese, a transcription of an unknown 16th century fencing manuscript published in 2006. There have been times I have literally not gone anywhere without it. John Florio’s 1611 Italian-English dictionary has been a valuable asset in learning to read the Anonimo Bolognese. While interesting, none of the modern publications or books have been nearly as valuable to me as the original sources have.

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

Eventually I would like to see an increase in the quality of interpretative works on fencing. I would be pleased to see books where, when reading them, I would not feel the desire to rather read the original source text. I have a strong feeling we are approaching a time where some individuals, after decades of work, will be able to produce such works. Something that, when reading it, would feel as trustworthy as Zbigniew Czajkowski’s work on coaching modern sport fencing.

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.