Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) is a relatively new martial art. It seeks to revive and reconstruct the weapons and techniques used in Europe from the dawn of Athens to the first world war. Though the primary focus is on the middle ages from the 11th-19th centuries. The community is comprised of different clubs and groups, each focusing on a variety of weapons or sources. Groups study historical manuscripts and fight books written by old masters and reconstruct their techniques and art with modern training equipment that replicates historical weapons. Various events bring the community together to fight, share research, and make friends.

This video from the New York Times gives a brief introduction to what HEMA is, focusing on the longsword.


Attempts to reconstruct medieval sword fighting have persisted since at least the 1800s[1]. Alfred Hutton published a treatise on military saber in his influential book Cold Steel.

Sporadic and diverse research continued at universities that had access to fencing books (or Fechtbuch), books where fencing masters wrote down their art and techniques. The research did not take off until after the dawn of the internet when the scholar Patri J. Pugliese started making copies of historical manuscripts in the mid-1980s. The scanned documents allowed researchers to study historical sources outside of a university setting, and the connectivity of the internet allowed them to communicate and share their ideas.

Groups like the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts (ARMA), founded in 1992, set the model upon which the rest of the community was built. Groups of HEMA enthusiasts flourished in Europe, America, Australia, Canada, and then around the world. In 1998, Sala d'Arme Achille Marozzo hosted one of the first HEMA events located in Italy[2]; other events soon followed, until the biggest events—Longpoint and Swordfish—attracted hundreds of fighters from across the world every year.

There were several leaps in the organization of the community. In 2009, Michael Chidester launched a project called Wiktenauer, which aims to compile an electronic copy of all known primary and secondary historical material and sources that describe fencing or medieval warfare. Currently, Wiktenauer hosts the world’s largest collection of HEMA documents with over 250 electronic copies of manuals, treatises, and other historical books, with more contemplations, translations, and collections on the way. [3]

In 2009, Roger Norling launched HROARR, designed to provide a platform for the HEMA community to discuss thoughts and share ideas. The HEMA Alliance was founded in 2010 and acts as a nonprofit parent organization, as it keeps a record of all affiliated clubs and provides insurance and certification to its members and clubs[4].

This documentary provides a succinct introduction to the art, interviewing many prominent members of the community.


HEMA practitioners study the lives and techniques of historical teachers, fighters, and soldiers recorded in books and manuals by different masters. Wiktenauer is the primary resource for most practitioners, but other members actively visit sources in collections and museums, while others hunt around in attics and basements for undiscovered sources. Once a source is found, it is translated and then finally made available to the broader community.

Because most sources consist of cryptic instructions next to pictures, interpretations will vary. For a weapon like the longsword, several community standards have emerged. However, for more obscure weapons like the sickle or scythe, interpretations can vary widely.

This resource is a timeline of sources compiled by the HEMA community thus far.


Written by Nicholas Allen, founder and former head instructor of the VCU HEMA club.

Edited by Kiana Shurkin, xKDF

Works cited


[1] Alfred Hutton, Cold Steel: A Practical Treatise On The Sabre, ebook (repr., London: William Clowes and Sons, Limited, 1889),

[2] Sala d’Arme Achille Marozzo, "Historical European Martial Arts", SAAM, 1997,

[3] "Wiktenauer, The World's Largest Library Of HEMA Books And Manuscripts ~☞ Insquequo Omnes Gratuiti Fiant",, 2018,

[4] "HEMAA", HEMA Alliance, accessed 14 July 2018,


Achille Marozzo, Sala d’Arme. "Historical European Martial Arts". SAAM, 1997.

"HEMAA". HEMA Alliance. Accessed 14 July 2018.

Hutton, Alfred. Cold Steel: A Practical Treatise On The Sabre. Ebook. Reprint, London: William Clowes and Sons, Limited, 1889.

"Wiktenauer, The World's Largest Library Of HEMA Books And Manuscripts ~☞ Insquequo Omnes Gratuiti Fiant". Wiktenauer.Com, 2018.

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