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The Theory and Practice of HEMA

I’ve been taking a break from working on The Art of Sword Fighting in Earnest: Philippo Vadi’s De Arte Gladiatioria Dimicandi (the long-awaited second edition of Veni Vadi Vici), and putting my shoulder to the wheel of getting my Magnum Opus ready: this is the accurately but not very inspiringly titled The Theory and Practice of Historical European Martial Arts. It’s a big book (it stands at about 105,000 words, about 300 pages in paperback, more if I use a lot of images), which covers the fundamental principles of all aspects of HEMA; from how to work with historical sources, to how to train for tournaments, and everything in between. I’ve been applying the feedback that I got from my beta readers in February this year, clarifying points here, adding whole sections there. There are one or two gaps that I know of; I need to write the section on Syllabus Design, for instance, but the book is not that far from being done, I think. I drew out the sections on a whiteboard today, you can see it here (click on the image for a readably large version):

Let me walk you through the structure of the book, so you can tell me if it makes sense to you, and whether you think there’s anything that ought to be covered that I’ve missed. I’ve published a great deal of this book as instalments of The Swordsman's Quick Guide, as blog posts, and as parts of my Recreate Historical Swordsmanship from Historical Sources online course. This has been deliberate; it allows me to perfect each section is in isolation first, and to break up this monumental undertaking into manageable chunks.


The book opens with an introduction that sketches how HEMA began as a thing, how I got into it in the very early days, and what I think HEMA is. After the introduction, the book is divided into Theory and Practice:


The theory section begins with the 7 Principles of Mastery, which covers how to learn anything. It goes on to define and describe Fencing Theory, and from there how to choose a historical source, how to work with translations if necessary, how to create drills from the source, and how to structure those drills into a coherent, focussed, syllabus. The theory section concludes with a short section on ethics: if you are going to be practising murderous skills, you need an ethical framework for them.


The practice section begins with Safety procedures, protective equipment, then how to choose a sword. It follows with the basics of striking, then with Skill Development how to get from knowledge to skill, from set drills to freeplay. From there we look at how to start a HEMA club, how to teach beginners, how to teach a basic class, how to teach an individual lesson, how to train for tournaments, how to win them, and how to use them for your training. That leads us on to physical training: nutrition, flexibility, strength, and speed, which lead me (as a Fioreist) naturally on to training for foresight, and training for boldness. This in turn leads us on to meditation and breathing exercises.

The book concludes with a bibliography, a recommended reading list (not the same thing!), then the complete text of my Ethics instalment, a beginner’s course diary from two separate beginners courses, and finally credits and acknowledgements.

Please note, this is not intended to be a training manual for any specific style; this is supposed to define the foundation of the entire HEMA project, and provide the principles with which to solve any HEMA problem from identifying the key techniques in a source, to getting your or your students' strikes longer and faster.

Did I miss anything?

I’m also toying with titles at the moment, so suggestions are welcome! Please leave your comments below; I might not see them on social media threads, but I will definitely read every comment posted here. Thanks!

I'm sure you have an opinion: do share!

One Response

  1. If this would be published by O’Reilly, I’d expect a drawing of a Narwhal on the top and the title to be “HEMA in a Nutshell”
    You could easily go with “Codex Windsor”, I think…

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