What is Hema?

Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) refers to documentable methods of armed and unarmed personal and group combat of European origin. The term HEMA is most often used for the reconstruction of medieval martial arts, because no systematic manuals for combat have been discovered earlier than the late middle ages. However, the scope of the HEMA alliance extends to all martial studies that come from historical Europe, from the Roman gladius to the Fairbairn-Sykes knife of World War II. Historical European Martial Arts are studied and practiced according to their original function, and it is therefore important to distinguish HEMA from three pursuits that may make similar impressions to newcomers:

  • Theatrical fighting that may evoke historical combat while being primarily concerned with dramatic and aesthetic effect.
  • Combat sports, such as Olympic fencing, may have origins in Historical European Martial Arts, but are ultimately governed by their own rules of competition and not the demands of practical survival with historical weapons.
  • Role-playing entertainments may draw inspiration from historical material, but are primarily guided by creativity.

The HEMA Alliance is happy to have members who also happen to be theatrical fight choreographers or sport-fencers, and where our goals meet we are always willing to share knowledge and skills.

There is a good introductory article on HEMA at Wikipedia. For further reading, please see our Articles section, as well as our sections on Martial Training and Historical Sources, and our Links area for other HEMA-related organizations and information.