English Suomi

Historical European martial arts, or HEMA, including historical fencing, stands for reconstructed martial arts which are based on historical fighting styles and manuscripts. In practise the phrase refers to a number of weapon skills from different points of European history, but also includes unarmed combat which is mainly composed of throws and joint locks. The different weapon styles include first and foremost sword of different kinds, but also other weapons such as daggers, spears and polearms.

Due to the lack of any living lineage of European martial arts teacher dating beyond the modern era, the practice of historical European martial arts today is solely based on the interpretation of historical combat manuals written in Europe at different points of history. These manuals or manuscripts contain records written down by the contemporary martial arts instructors in varying detail and for varying purposes. The earlies known such manuscript is known as the I.33 (due to its archiving designation) or the 'Tower manuscript'. It dates from the turn of the 14th century and is believed to be of German origin. From the 15th century a number of manuals are known, mostly of German and Italian origin, and during the following centuries the number treatises grew due to the invention of book press. Modern day training is based on studying and interpreting these manuals, and practising the techniques and systems presented therein.

In Academia Liechtenaueriana Helsingiensis ry we practise a style of longsword fencing widely recognised as the German longsword style. The founder of this particular style is a German fencing master called Johannes (Hans) Liechtenauer, who presumably lived during the 14th century. The details of his life and deed remain mostly a mystery to modern readers, but he is told have travelled round Europe, practising swordsmanship under the tutelage of several contemporary fencing masters, and to have formed his own fighting system based on these teachings. Initially he only taught his system to small and select number of pupils and wrote his teachings down in the form of a cryptic poem, so that only his own students could understand his notes. Soon the style and teachings began to spread however, and Liechtenauer's 'secret' poem was decrypted and commented upon by his students or their followers. The system became very popular throughout Germany, and eventually it was practised in fencing schools in all corners of the land.

Today a number of surviving manuals describing the Liechtenauer system are known. The earliest of these is dated to 1389, while the last ones date from the 17th century. The survival of this particular style for so long - three centuries - can be considered remarkable, especially since the longsword as a weapon of war became all but obsolete already during the first half of the 16th century. Characteristic of the Liechtenauer system is the quick and aggressive taking of the initiative, simultaneous attack and defence, and the wide use of thrusting actions.

The club focuses on training in the use of the longsword specifically in the 14th and 15th century context. In addition those who have attained the rank of Free Fencer train unarmed and dagger combat as they are presented in the contemporary German manuscripts. Thus the students are given a good and thorough understanding and skill base of martial arts in the context of late medieval period Europe. The use of other weapons within and outwith the medieval period will become available to the students at later stage, depending on the students' own wishes and interests.

Copyright © Peter Henry Karis AD 2013