Sword Fighting in a Modern Age: HEMA?

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: martial arts, Sword Fighting
3 Feb 2014


I used to watch Zoro as a kid and of course picked up sticks and fight with my friends. Later as I got involved in Eastern Martial Arts (I knew as Martial Arts), I discovered that kicking and punching is a more effective fighting method. I learned some sword katas in Kenpo but the stress was mostly on knowing how to use an improvised weapon.


So Kendo never really interested me much you see as one cannot walk to the grocery store with a Samurai sword strapped to your belt. Also I am not descended from Asia so there is no particular familial historical interest either. I always wondered how my ancestors survived the dark ages and how one used the weapons of the day but again – they would not work for real fighting today.


I saw this video the other day and got to thinking about Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). This post is just my thinking about taking up sword fighting in a modern age.




Wow now that spurred my interest! I started reading about why the swords were so long and what I get so far is the long swords had to be a good slashing weapon when fighting armored horses and knights. For instance the front group of an army facing a calvary would be responsible for cutting down the horse/knight and then delivering a mortal slashing strike on the grounded opponent.


I’m still pretty new to my discovery but it then seems like the backup ranks and archers would carry more of the one handed swords that would fare better in hand to hand combat. Europe had an interesting history post Roman days that descended into feudalism – where neighboring fiefdoms were at odds with each and other nations. In those dangerous times if disease, wolves, famine did not get you perhaps raiding bandits might! One had to either band together with some powerful alliances or learn to be self-sufficient as possible – including defending yours against all comers. I am not a historian but I believe that was a time men had to know how to fight!


So I am sure many that might be reading this would be thinking – HEMA? Learning the German Long Sword? Why not learn to use the Samurai Sword fighting? They were the best where they not?


First let me say that if one starts to drink the coolaid that EMA are best just because that came from Asia and they are the greatest in the all of the karate movies – I think you would be missing the reality. Various weapons evolved for a need at any given time. Take the Long Sword; that would seem to have an advantage if you need range and the ability to cut through armor. Failing that need – the lighter one-handed swords would seemingly do better in closer quarters.


The Samurai were ancient warriors that evolved in a culture that did not have the same armor so no need of a heaver sword evolved (total supposition on my part here). The Samurai were great at what they did but I don’t think they were any better or worse then other ancient warriors of the time. There was a series called the Deadliest Warrior that tried to answer that question using computer simulations and comparisons of the weapons each warrior carried. I don’t know if that was really conclusive and that series got silly at the end – Vampires vs Zombies. :)


So for me I am considering doing something fun as I get older – transitioning from EMA (Eastern MA) to WEMA! I have German, English, and Hungarian roots so I think picking up some Medieval Sword fighting to my my bag of tricks (you never know when a armored knight might attack you!) would be really fun!


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