Does HEMA have a place in historical re-enactment?

Keith Farrell
Keith practising armoured combat in the snow. Photo by Reinis Rinka, 2012.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 12th August 2011. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

I used to be involved with a historical re-enactment group before I began to practise HEMA. More recently, I have taught workshops and seminars on the subject of swordfighting for an audience, sometimes with re-enactors in attendance, and sometimes exclusively for re-enactment groups.

In my opinion, both HEMA fencers and historical re-enactors are trying to do a similar thing, but with quite a different perspective: re-enactors are usually trying to recreate the look and outfits of the time, whereas HEMA people are trying to recreate the fighting methods of the time. This leads to inevitable compromises: to recreate the look as authentically as possible, re-enactors cannot wear modern protective equipment such as fencing masks, and therefore must change how they fight for reasons of safety; HEMA people are trying to recreate the fighting as authentically as possible, meaning that the look and clothing are often sacrificed in favour of modern protective gear such as fencing masks.

With these major differences, does HEMA have a place in historical battle re-enactment? This is a contentious issue with various different schools of thought. Opinions are often entrenched and debates can become passionate, and so my intention is to take a neutral point of view and discuss both the advantages and disadvantages of the different points of view.

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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 www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Review of the Superior Fencing padded shin guards

The Superior Fencing shin guards. Image from the Superior Fencing website.

I recently had the opportunity to test and review the Superior Fencing padded shin guards. They are very protective, although the standard size were a bit too large for me.

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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 www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Review of the Superior Fencing forearm & padded elbow guards

The Superior Fencing forearm guards and padded elbow protectors. Image from the Superior Fencing website.

I recently had the opportunity to test and review the Superior Fencing forearm and padded elbow guards. They are very protective, and are not as bulky as some other forearm guards, although the standard size is perhaps a little too large for smaller people.

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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 www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Review of the Superior Fencing leather mask overlay pro

The Superior Fencing leather mask overlay pro. Image from the Superior Fencing website.

I have been using the Superior Fencing leather mask overlay pro for a while for both drilling and sparring. I like it a lot, and it has already protected my head from a few quite heavy hits.

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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 www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Review of the Superior Fencing gorget

The Superior Fencing gorget. Image from the Superior Fencing website.

I have had the opportunity to look at and test the gorget by Superior Fencing. In short, I think it is a pretty good piece of equipment, and worth the investment.

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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 www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Review of the Superior Fencing leather padded fencing gloves

The Superior Fencing leather padded fencing gloves. Image from the Superior Fencing website.

I have been using the Superior Fencing leather padded fencing gloves in drilling for a while now, and I find them to be very comfortable and good for the purpose.

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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 www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Review of the Superior Fencing padded knee protectors

The Superior Fencing padded knee protectors. Image from the Superior Fencing website.

I recently had the opportunity to test and review the Superior Fencing padded knee protectors. They are protective, comfortable, and sit well on the Superior Fencing padded trousers.

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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 www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Review of the Superior Fencing 800N HEMA trousers

The Superior Fencing HEMA trousers. Image from the Superior Fencing website.

The Superior Fencing 800N HEMA trousers[1] are a comfortable set of protections for your legs, groin and abdomen. They look good while being very functional.

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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 www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Review of the Superior Fencing HEMA bag

The Superior Fencing bag. Image from the Superior Fencing website.

The Superior Fencing HEMA bag is a well-designed piece of equipment. I have seen and handled several attempts at sword bags over the years, and I think this is the best thought-through design I have seen so far.

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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 www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Attacking the hands in sparring

Sparring Gloves and an Albion Meyer
Sparring Gloves and an Albion Meyer. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2015.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 28th August 2015. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

Every so often, I find a discussion (online and in person, in roughly equal quantities) where people debate the merits and problems of including hands as a valid target area when fencing. Usually this is with regard to longsword, but sometimes with other weapons as well.

It is my firm belief that the hands are important targets when learning how to fence, but we should look after them and not take matters to extremes.

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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 www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Synthetic and steel, or a question of intensity

Liverpool HEMA lesson
Jodie and Ben performing an exercise during a lesson at Liverpool HEMA. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2018.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 5th June 2015. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

When HEMA practitioners discuss protective gear, and for which kind of activity it is most suitable, someone usually says that a piece of gear is “suitable for steel” or “good for synthetics but not for steel”. However, I believe this is the wrong way to look at the use of training swords for historical fencing, and the protective equipment that must be worn, as it forces a certain dichotomy that ignores the most important aspect of risk when fencing: intensity.

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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 www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Review: Stryker singlestick from Purpleheart Armoury

The Stryker singlestick by Purpleheart Armoury.

The Stryker singlestick is a rattan stick with a plastic basket for fencers who want to train with singlesticks. Leather baskets, although traditional, can be prohibitively expensive, and don’t always provide enough protection against impacts to the hands. Similarly, ash sticks are traditional, but require much more maintenance than rattan.

This singlestick from Purpleheart Armoury is a good solution. With a 3D printed plastic basket, it is easy to produce and keep in stock without the difficulties that come with working with leather: a good thing both for producers and for customers!

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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 www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Responsibility to our training partners

Liverpool HEMA lessonMarc and Alex performing an exercise during a lesson at Liverpool HEMA. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2017.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 27th February 2015. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

We often take our training partners for granted. However, we should not be so blasé – our training partners are important people, who help us learn, and who deserve our respect and care. We have a duty and responsibility to look after our training partners, to keep them safe, and to help them develop their skills just as they help us to develop our own.

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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 www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Sparring is not always the best training method to become better at sparring

Keith Farrell and Ciaran O'Sullivan
Keith Farrell and Ciaran O’Sullivan fencing with longswords at Edgebana. Photo by Thomas Naylor, 2016.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 11th October 2013. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

I have often come into contact with the idea that the best way to become good at sparring is to practise lots of sparring. This does have some kind of logic behind it: after all, the common saying is: “practice makes perfect.”

However, in my opinion, there are much better ways to become better at fighting than just sparring a lot. Certainly, plenty of sparring is important to the development of a martial artist, but training cleverly is better than training hard – as long as you work hard at training cleverly!

This article will seek to illustrate some of my thoughts about the issue.

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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 www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Review of the Destroyer Modz “Roughneck” gorget

The Destroyer Modz “Roughneck” gorget. Photo from the Destroyer Modz website.

I have used a Destroyer Modz “Roughneck” gorget for protection in sparring for a few months now, and I find it offers me a combination of protection with mobility that I haven’t experienced with any other gorget.

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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 www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.