The Importance of Books in the HEMA Community

Image by Thomas Kelley, from unsplash.com

The subject of this series of interviews is “the importance of books in the HEMA community”.

Personally, I think books are immensely important to the community (and in general!), but I was interested to find out more about how other people see the issue. I asked several well-known HEMA practitioners from around the world, including instructors, competitors, people who compete rarely, published authors, and academics.

Interviews

  1. Martin Fabian
  2. Martin Austwick
  3. Peter Smallridge
  4. Jack Gassmann
  5. Piermarco Terminiello
  6. Fran Terminiello
  7. Jake Priddy
  8. Richard Marsden
  9. Emma Fowler
  10. Eugenio Garcia-Salmones
  11. Bert Gevaert
  12. Meg Floyd
  13. Carl Ryrberg
  14. Alberto Bomprezzi
  15. Rob Runacres
  16. Andrea Morini
  17. Christopher Scott Thompson
  18. Steven Hirsch
  19. Kristine Konsmo
  20. Jim Campbell
  21. Lee Smith
  22. Roberto Gotti
  23. Marek Helman
  24. Guy Windsor
  25. Reinier van Noort
  26. Jacopo Penso
  27. Mike Edelson
  28. Michela D’Orlando
  29. Anton Kohutovic
  30. Ilkka Hartikainen
  31. Ties Kool
  32. Daniel Jaquet
  33. Cory Winslow
  34. Alen Lovrič
  35. Mishaël Lopes Cardozo
  36. Roberto Martinez-Loyo

I hope you find these interviews as interesting to read as I did.

My sincere thanks to everyone who contributed a response!

Conclusions

Every single person said that books are useful for the community, with the vast majority going as far as to say that books are very important for the community. Every person on the list has found, from a book, valuable information or inspiration for their HEMA studies; whether it be one of the original source books, or a translation, or a modern work on HEMA or history in general.

Different priorities

Different people put priority on different types of books or literature. Some people believe it more important to read more primary sources  (and transcriptions or translations thereof). Some believe it important to read books on sports science and teaching science, so that we can understand better how to train and teach the material from the original treatises. Some believe it of importance to read widely about the history and context of the period in which their chosen HEMA systems were developed and used. Some believe it important to study books about martial arts and violence in general, to understand how fighting happens and why. Regardless of where anyone’s priorities lie, there is at least one type of book that everyone feels is important for practitioners of HEMA.

Further books for the HEMA community

Everyone has some thoughts about what types of books they would like to see developed for the HEMA community. Some people called for further histories and translations of source material, while others noted that the community already has access to so many treatises while still being (in the main) unable to understand or implement their instructions properly, that it might make more sense to produce books about teaching HEMA and understanding the source material, rather than working on yet more translations and reproductions of treatises. Calls for books on teaching methods were common, and this is something that the community would probably benefit from immensely over the next few years.

Sport vs research

It is important to notice that every single person who responded, regardless of where they fall on the scale of “not at all competitive and rarely competes in tournaments” to “highly competitive and competes in tournaments regularly”, attaches some measure of importance to books, and engages in “book learning” in some fashion. Since the question of “sport vs research” appears so often in discussion about HEMA, I feel that this is a very important point to note. Regardless of whether someone competes rarely or regularly, book learning and research is an important part of their HEMA studies. Some people’s choice of reading material and topic of study may not map onto what other people consider to be “HEMA research”, but it is nonetheless research with books on related topics that are important for a holistic study of HEMA.

Summary

All of the well-known figures who have responded to the interview questions believe that books are helpful in the study of HEMA. Between them, the respondents have offered many suggestions for reading material that they believe are particularly valuable for one reason or another.

No matter what one’s point of view is regarding “sport” and competitions, it is clear that people who are well-known in the community (for being good instructors, practitioners, competitors, or community-builders) tend to be in favour of reading books to increase their knowledge and understanding. Arguments about “sport vs research” should perhaps be reconsidered and rephrased in a more correct fashion, since it is clear that well-known “sportive” people still engage in research and learning from books, and therefore, the argument of “sport vs research” is a false dichotomy, at least in the simplistic form in which it is most commonly presented.