If it were not an art the strong would always win - Dobringer MS

NHFL men's and women's divisions in 2016

By Fran Terminiello


The Nordic Historical Fencing League will have mens and women's longsword divisions in 2016, says Kristine Konsmo, senior NHFL committee member and familiar face in the International HEMA tournament scene.

Kristine has been a part of competitive HEMA for some years now, famous for winning the open sword and buckler in Swordfish 2010, and winning or refereeing many high profiled matches since. This year she took over as senior instructor at Fekteklubben Frie Duellister in Norway.


Following on from her thrilling Swordfish rapier and dagger final against Piermarco Terminiello of the UK where she achieved silver this weekend, Kristine issued the following statement:


"In the very first NHFL season there were 4 tournaments. In them, 5 women competed a total of 9 times. One woman competed in all four tournaments.

In the second season we started a women's division. While there were only 3 tournaments that year, we stil
l had a total of 16 women competing a total of 33 times, and 8 women competed in all three tournaments! This year's Swordfish has the biggest women's tournament in its history, and many of the fencers from the league have been competing here this weekend.

Due to the nature of the team competition, women were forced to compete in either the mixed or the women's tournament, and not a single woman competed in either of the mixed tournaments.

There was clearly a demand that we were meeting, and it was also clear to us that there was no real need to keep the mixed tournament open to women.

That in and of itself was no reason to close the mixed to women, but unfortunately, some people kept comparing the results in the women's to the mixed, and calling the mixed "the true test of skill" and otherwise disparaging the results of the women who competed there.

We feel like this is a way of denigrating the efforts of the women who participate in the women's tournaments. To further emphasise the hard work and amazing progress made by women fencers over the past year, remove what we consider an unfair comparison between the genders, and to create the best possible environment for further growth in the women's tournaments, we have decided that next year's NHFL will no longer have a mixed division, and instead be separated in the women's and the men's. The team competition will continue as previously."

The news will be welcome by many women on the competition scene, and is bound to cause controversy elsewhere. Some may see it is a sign of the 'mainstreaming' of HEMA, whether that is for good or ill is a topic for debate. One thing is for certain however, we are seeing more women in HEMA competitions.



Strength in numbers

By Fran Terminiello



It's been an interesting ten days: Marty McFly finally jumped on the hoverboard after 30 years. Back to the Source has amassed over 400K views in five days - showcasing the breadth and depth offered to those that enter the HEMAverseSwordfish, the HEMA world championships in all but name, has swelled by another 100 participants on top of last year's attendance. And now, Esfinges has reached a membership of 1000. 


One thousand women. With swords. How cool is that? 


I consider myself to be very lucky having been there from its inception. Ken Dietiker put me in touch with Mariana Lopez and I was inspired, having met a few women at events, to try and get us all connected somehow, see what common experiences we share, and learn from one another. In three years we have added a US and European store, got over 3000 followers on our public page, and brought out arguably the coolest (if not the most painful to produce) rashguard the world has ever seen. This weekend we will all gather round our screens - those not lucky enough to be there - to watch the finals at Swordfish, now in its tenth year. Among the contests will be women's longsword, with five, FIVE pools. The first women's longsword tournament had four participants. This is progress and it's exciting to think where it will lead. 


We've been Back to the Source and now it is time to go Back to the Future.  


HEMA is achieving publicity, thanks to the hard work of many of its members. It's in the mainstream press and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Game of Thrones. Whether we like it or not, tournaments are a driving factor, and all this publicity means that its popularity will increase.  


There is a wealth of information for the would-be beginner HEMAist, but even before they reach that stage there is a large barrier of common misbeliefs about swords and swordplay. As our ranks increase, we as a community have a responsibility to help those that seek our advice, educate them about the sources, the history, the community and how to be a part of it.  


Our website, when it is reborn, aims to meet the needs of the beginner, in the same way that the Wiktenauer points researchers towards sources, and the HEMA Alliance page has its club-finder. We want to create a bank of FAQs to help ease newbies decision-making. We want to continue to grow our group, and ensure that women never feel that HEMA is not the right choice for them, simply because they are female. We want to continue to show that swords and historical European martial arts belong to everybody.  

The art of never being good at HEMA.

By Mariana Lopez


Hello, my name is Mariana, the internet knows me as “Perica” and I suck at fencing.


I have a very nice club, I’ve been able to take seminars with many great instructors, I’ve been able to fence them and I’ve been able to travel, know and train with many people, etc. My students have done well… my first HEMA student who now has traveled as much or more than me did twice better than me in the tournament he took right after I spend 3 months being her main instructor. In fact, let me put this straight: I didn’t move out of the pool… he always does… and he does it with good technique, skills and beautiful moves, he stills better than me, he gets better each time, and I still suck.


Yet I’ve been told I have the skills, I’ve been told I have potential and in many cases I’ve been told I have a talent for it and I just need to keep on it and become something like a very amazing fencer because I have it natural…. It hasn’t happen yet. My first thought is that everyone is lying to me, but if by some chance they are not then many things have to do with my faultier: training, dedication, provably even what I eat and my sleeping habits. But today I realized one thing that will never allow me to be a good fencer until it’s changed: Gear.


One day Mike Edelson told me after a fight that got me very frustrated: Don’t expect to be any good at a fight as long as you have that stupid fencing mask in your head. It makes it twice as big and you can’t even lift your arms and it makes you a big heavy target to hit.


But I was used to it, I was used to my bad gear but I decide to listen and I changed my mask because I wanted to become better… but for then the only gloves that fit me (kids size lacrosse gloves) were no longer good for HEMA and cost me a broken finger and 30,000 Pesos (1818 USD) of surgery and a titanium insert because the cut was just too perfect for it to hear naturally. All I had left was my gambeson, custom made, perfect fit, based on a historical one with modification and with the issue it exposed my armpits so I had to change it because regulations of tournaments, and this is what happened:


Mask, special XS size, not sold to adults but to teenagers it fit, XS back of the head protection? Not so much: a bit bigger makes the head a bigger target, also makes the head swing a bit because it moves more than it should even if it stays where it has to, no smaller size available Gloves: HEMA specific and the smallest size, modified because I wasn’t able to close my hands around the sword, can’t do any guard as Ochs or such because they gloves get on the way and make my hands dumb. I just can barely grab the sword. No edge control and don’t work with a short handle sword like mine because while the sword is good for my small size and improves my HEMA, the gloves don’t fit because too big. Smoothness is nearly impossible


Custom made Jacket: that wasn’t really a fit, because apparently retailers are so unfamiliar to such small sizes they asked for the measures 3 times… even when a lot smaller than the rest, smaller it’s still bigger, and while I hope it will change once it completely breaks in.. The funny fit mess in the moves.


Chest protector: Made it myself…. No commercial brand would even fit… and that made them more dangerous than protection; no complain about that one, luckIly.


What’s my point? It’s been my second training with AEEA in Spain, with my new gear. The exercises we do with no gear at my club, they do it with the gear here… I used the custom made jacket, the new super small gloves and kept away the extra head protection… and all the moves I do smoothly and even laughing at a regular training, suck. And I can fix my body and I can change my foot work and all I do, with those 3 basic things on me I will always suck. I was twisting myself on such insane forms to make it work it was no longer HEMA. For the first time I start realizing how gear changes all my body and how little the material breaking in would help. Yes I might have been stupid for not realizing this before but my old bad gear was my one and only gear and I was too used to it to realize it.


HEMA gear must be like good jeans... there’s no way to be comfortable in the street if you have to pull them up every 3 minutes… well I’m pulling my pants up when I have a sword pointing at my face... This issue is not only mine, yes I’m an absurd funny shaped human with exceptional sizes, but what applies to me in 3 pieces of gear applies to others by parts and with more people joining, more ladies and guys who fit my conditions are out there for the fight.

The situation is simple: There’s no gear for the XS, and this is limiting people like me, and many others on being good or at least being better, or if not, of having the movement needs in order to do what they can do. Maybe there are not enough XS customers for retailers to realize or care, of be able to afford it, because XS people just buy the smallest we can find and we can’t do more, we are stuck with it because we are not allowed to fight with anything else… although again.. There’s nothing else….


I’ve tried and plaNned on making lists and lists of the needs of girls on breast protection and how it limits movement in a fight and how HEMA breast protection should be created, but the truth is that this is a generalized issue, the HEMA Gear industry is taking shape, and we the small ones, are not on the list of things to be add on the chart (yet). There’s a current deficiency on access to gear, 5 years ago, it was because it didn’t existed, now: it’s because the gear who enters to the norm and is now mandatory for the most, is kicking out a percentage of the competitive list by not providing the tools needed in the needed way, so the fighters could be in the fight and not worried trying the sword not to fall off because you can barely grab it. And even worst!! Lack of competitive gear in a smaller size will, in a good measure, limit the new movement of teen ager HEMA fencers who want to show their own skills. Whom, because of age… are like an XS.


The right gear won’t get me a medal if I’m not a good fencer, that’s true, but at least I won’t have the limitations to make this an excuse, and I will suck because I do, not because I can’t keep my gloves on, or maybe I’ll be a thousand miles closer to know the amazing fencer people see on me and I don’t… maybe a small someone out there will be able to show what an excellent fencer we’ve miss due to simple bad gear.


HEMA Gear makers this is a call for you: SMALL PEOPLE NEED YOU!

ESFINGES conduct policy

The following document is an official Esfinges Organizatión publication


We want Esfinges to be a positive experience for all of our members. With that in mind, we have been discussing a conduct policy, but as this is not a one-way street, we would like to warmly invite your comments and input, so that we continue making Esfignes a place where all of our members can feel welcome.


The Esfinges group is a safe space where we support and help each other. We're all on our own journeys, and what might be a minor milestone for someone can be a major milestone for someone else. Please keep this in mind when you are posting and especially when you are commenting.


We rule ourselves by the Motto: We talk about subjects, not about people. Esfinges aims to offer a place where we may share our thoughts/experiences/opinions that we might not be comfortable sharing in other HEMA groups and for this we need to assure a safe atmosphere supported by the following policy:


  1. The Golden rule: We talk about subjects not about People. This applies to referring to people in general. It’s preferential to avoid names and point out the subject of interest, not the person. (for example: A person suggested that female training should be based on “x” skills. what do you think about? )

    Addendum 15.8.15: Please be mindful to avoid any detailed information that might make it possible to identify any person through inference. We are aware that this is subjective. Each case will be reviewed individually and can or cannot be considered as naming the person/ falling short of the golden rule.


  2. Everyone should be treated with respect. Always assume that the others are as intelligent, honest, and honorable as you are.

  3. Esfinges is an appropriate place to discuss relevant HEMA and martial arts issues, sharing your personal experiences and achievements is fine, but denigrating or devaluing someone else’s achievements/experiences is not.

  4. It’s encouraged to voice a contrary opinion or disagreement, as long as it's done politely and respectfully and criticism should be given constructively, avoiding resorting to common fallacies (see below).

  5. Personal attacks* will not be tolerated. Personal issues should be treated privately, and put aside when communicating within the group.

  6. Public attacks, bullying, or shaming  another person will result in a yellow card  (a warning for a first offense), and a red card (removal from the group) on a second offense. In particularly severe cases, admins reserve the right to remove a member without warning. Admins also reserve the right to close any comment thread.

  7. This group exist as a safe space for our members; therefore we ask exact conversations here not be shared in public groups without the express consent of the people you are quoting


Please feel free to contact the admins with any comments/questions/concerns.


*Personal attacks are any post or comment in which another member is singled out for her post/comment and criticized in such a manner that is rude and disrespectful, and/or aim to intimidate.


Common Fallacies to avoid (and some Harry Potter spoilers)


  1. Ad hominem - when you attack the person instead of the argument. Example: I say that I think Harry Potter is awesome, and you say that I have no imagination, instead of saying why you don’t think Harry Potter is awesome.

  2. Bandwagon Fallacy - when you say that “everyone says that Hogwarts is the best magical school” and use that as the basis of your argument.

  3. Confirmation Bias - when you focus only on the evidence that supports the conclusion you want to hear and ignores evidence to the contrary, such as “Harry Potter is an awesome potions maker” while not mentioning that Harry was cheating and had never before been an awesome potions student.

  4. Confusion of correlation and causation - an example: more people know how to use computers now than fifty years ago, and more people now find jeans acceptable in the workplace, but that does not mean that an increase in computer use has caused a relaxation of dress codes.

  5. Red Herring - introducing a false lead away from the argument. For example, if people are arguing about whether The Hobbit is a better book than A Game of Thrones, and then someone talks about Ian McKellan’s portrayal of Gandalf (which, while awesome, has utterly no bearing on how good the book is).

  6. Straw Man - Introducing a fake scenario and then attacking it For example, “Gandalf is luring all the hobbits away from the shire so he can feed them to the Balrog. Down with Gandalf!”

  7. The Pure-Blood- Using arguments such as “a true wizard is” “only a real magician knows that” and dismiss other’s opinions because they don’t fit your idea of what a “real wizard” is.

I am a Woman, I am a Fencer.

The views contained in this article are those of the author.
By: Rebecca Glass

Note: This blog is a copy from the original text publish an written by Rebecca Glass. 
Esfinges got her direct permission to re-publish her work on this blog.  

Original Text:



I am a Woman, I am a Fencer.

I am a woman; I am a fencer.  

I engage in consensual violence.

I hit people; they hit me (and sometimes I let them). I hit people with a steel blade, that, even though blunted, can still easily do serious physical harm without the right protective gear. I get hit with the same style weapon. I hit women, I hit men. I get hit by women, I get hit by men.

Longsword is a full-contact martial art. This doesn’t mean that I enjoy getting hit, but it means that I know well enough to expect that it will happen. My success as a fencer depends on my ability to gradually reduce the number of times in which I do get hit, but even the best—the Axel Petterssons and Ties Kools of the world—get hit.

Consensual violence, especially in the form of sports and martial arts, for men, is a readily-accepted part of our society. Consider the massive audience for the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight on May 2nd (there were fears in the Philippines about electricity shortages because of too many people watching), or the annual audience in the U.S. for the Super Bowl.

It is, however, even in 2015 it is not as accepted for women. Girls are told by Disney heroines (with Mulan a notable exception) that their roles are peacemakers, when they are lucky enough to have roles at all (I’m looking at you, Toy Story franchise). Men’s lacrosse involves a full set of upper body pads; women’s lacrosse an eye mask. The most famous women athletes of our era are arguably tennis players, figure skaters, and gymnasts; Ronda Rousey aside, they are not fighters. Despite all of this, in the U.S., we’re considered relatively enlightened when it comes to women’s sports and martial arts—just think about how our female athletes dominated the 2012 Summer Olympics.

HEMA is consensual violence, and it is consensual violence that does not care if you are male or female. When the mask goes on, it’s almost impossible to tell who’s male, and who’s female (no, you cannot use hair length, or the SPES skirt, as a barometer). If you want to be a fighter, you’re welcome to come and learn, male or female. You will learn that you can either learn to accept getting hit by (or hitting) your club mates, male or female, or you can find a different pastime. Sometimes you can learn this quickly, like a fish to water; other times it might come more slowly, like weaning a baby from the bottle.

So if you, The New Student, say you don’t want to hit me because “you’re a girl”, I’m not offended. I’m not offended because you are a HEMA newborn, just like the rest of us were at some point (many would still consider me relatively new), and yes, it’s weird to all of a sudden be told “it’s okay to hit her here” after what’s likely been a lifetime of being told not to hit women.

You’ve come here to learn, so let us teach you your first lesson: I am a woman, I am a fencer. In the ring only one of these things matter.

ESFINGES conduct policy

The following document is an official Esfinges Organizatión publication


We want Esfinges to be a positive experience for all of our members. With that in mind, we have been discussing a conduct policy, but as this is not a one-way street, we would like to warmly invite your comments and input, so that we continue making Esfignes a place where all of our members can feel welcome.


The Esfinges group is a safe space where we support and help each other. We're all on our own journeys, and what might be a minor milestone for someone can be a major milestone for someone else. Please keep this in mind when you are posting and especially when you are commenting.


We rule ourselves by the Motto: We talk about subjects, not about people. Esfinges aims to offer a place where we may share our thoughts/experiences/opinions that we might not be comfortable sharing in other HEMA groups and for this we need to assure a safe atmosphere supported by the following policy:


  1. The Gold rule: We talk about subjects not about People. This applies to referring to people in general. It’s preferential to avoid names and point out the subject of interest, not the person. (for example: A person suggested that female training should be based on “x” skills. what do you think about? )


  2. Everyone should be treated with respect. Always assume that the others are as intelligent, honest, and honorable as you are.

  3. Esfinges is an appropriate place to discuss relevant HEMA and martial arts issues, sharing your personal experiences and achievements is fine, but denigrating or devaluing someone else’s achievements/experiences is not.

  4. It’s encouraged to voice a contrary opinion or disagreement, as long as it's done politely and respectfully and criticism should be given constructively, avoiding resorting to common fallacies (see below).

  5. Personal attacks* will not be tolerated. Personal issues should be treated privately, and put aside when communicating within the group.

  6. Public attacks, bullying, or shaming  another person will result in a yellow card  (a warning for a first offense), and a red card (removal from the group) on a second offense. In particularly severe cases, admins reserve the right to remove a member without warning. Admins also reserve the right to close any comment thread.


Please feel free to contact the admins with any comments/questions/concerns.


*Personal attacks are any post or comment in which another member is singled out for her post/comment and criticized in such a manner that is rude and disrespectful, and/or aim to intimidate.


Common Fallacies to avoid (and some Harry Potter spoilers)


  1. Ad hominem - when you attack the person instead of the argument. Example: I say that I think Harry Potter is awesome, and you say that I have no imagination, instead of saying why you don’t think Harry Potter is awesome.

  2. Bandwagon Fallacy - when you say that “everyone says that Hogwarts is the best magical school” and use that as the basis of your argument.

  3. Confirmation Bias - when you focus only on the evidence that supports the conclusion you want to hear and ignores evidence to the contrary, such as “Harry Potter is an awesome potions maker” while not mentioning that Harry was cheating and had never before been an awesome potions student.

  4. Confusion of correlation and causation - an example: more people know how to use computers now than fifty years ago, and more people now find jeans acceptable in the workplace, but that does not mean that an increase in computer use has caused a relaxation of dress codes.

  5. Red Herring - introducing a false lead away from the argument. For example, if people are arguing about whether The Hobbit is a better book than A Game of Thrones, and then someone talks about Ian McKellan’s portrayal of Gandalf (which, while awesome, has utterly no bearing on how good the book is).

  6. Straw Man - Introducing a fake scenario and then attacking it For example, “Gandalf is luring all the hobbits away from the shire so he can feed them to the Balrog. Down with Gandalf!”

  7. The Pure-Blood- Using arguments such as “a true wizard is” “only a real magician knows that” and dismiss other’s opinions because they don’t fit your idea of what a “real wizard” is.

Ladylike Behaviour: Portraying and performing 'womanness' in HEMA

(Note: This article was originally written as a paper for an anthropology class called 'Pleasure, Power and Gender in Sport'. The original article can be found here.)

By Linde Simpson


'I don't emphasize it [being a woman] at all. I take a perverse amount of pleasure surprising people when I take off my mask (although it doesn't happen as much any more). I want people and the HEMA guys to know that I am one of you, I can fight as well as you, and if you try to baby me 'cause “Imma girl” I will beat the snot out of you.' (J., USA)


Sports have long been considered a masculine thing. Elizabeth Hardy, in her study on 'apologetic behaviour' by female rugby players, writes: 'It makes sense, then, that sport participation came to be associated with masculine traits, such as aggression, strength, power, dominance and violence – all traits of hegemonic masculinity' (Hardy 2014: 1). She goes on to describe the risks women run of being considered masculine when they participate in sports, and the ways in which female Canadian rugby players deal with this. Hardy is not the only one to write about these issues; there are countless articles recounting the many different ways in which women identify themselves and their gender in sports. However, HEMA is not one of them. From my personal experience I know that gender issues are less obvious in HEMA than in sports in which women's and men's divisions are completely separate in both training and competition.


Unlike many other sports, there is barely if any difference between the ways in which men and women are expected to dress when participating in HEMA. This is clear to see when observing a sparring match; all combatants, be they men or women, are fully covered with protective equipment, which creates a certain degree of genderless anonymity. This, in turn, inspires many – men and women alike – to personalize their gear, for example by painting their fencing mask or adding patches to their jacket. Commonly worn patches are those of a national flag or the fencing club one belongs to, both signs of belonging to and identifying with a certain community. However, alongside and sometimes instead of these, another is patch often found worn mostly by women: the blue-black Esfinges patch.





Esfinges is, as we all know, a group promoting women's participation in HEMA. The public Esfinges Facebook page is followed by men and women alike, but the private Facebook group allows only women as members and is a place where women discuss HEMA and gender-related topics. This is where I decided to ask whether anyone emphasized their being a woman while practicing HEMA, for example by adding an Esfinges patch to the usual full-body protection worn by fighters, as shown in the following picture made at Swordfish 2014 in Sweden, Europe's largest HEMA tournament. Pictured are Eliisa Keskinen and Claudia Krause after the Women's Longsword finals. The blue patch on Krause's left arm is the Esfinges logo.


The replies I received were very mixed, though within the group of women who did not feel the need to expressly emphasize their being female, there was a general trend of still wearing or wanting to wear the Esfinges patch because they appreciated and felt a sense of belonging to the community, much like any other fighter might want to wear their national flag to represent their country. This led me to think about gender not just as something to be performed and presented, but also as a community that one can feel an allegiance and belonging to. In this article I will explore both of these aspects of gender when it comes to sports and conclude by examining the role that Esfinges plays in this all.


Performing 'woman'

'I think I've always focused on showing my individuality. … I have to be me when I practice sword, and I've never been “one of the guys” and have never desired to be that type of woman, so I'm sure it's also reflected in a lot of other ways I'm not aware of. … Also I do like to feel “pretty” when I practice, it's a default need, if I don't like how I feel in my clothes it affects my mood, so I don't ever schlepp about in blah clothes.' (H., USA)


To better understand the ways in which women 'perform' their gender, there are a number of theorists who I think are important to keep in mind. First, and foremost, is Judith Butler, a gender theorist best known for her concept of gender performativity: the theory that what we consider a gender is not a natural category, but something that is performed, accepted as normal, and reproduced through the continued performance of that which is considered normal. Her theory follows closely with Foucault's discourse: the way in which certain issues are talked about, thought about, or otherwise portrayed. The discourse can change over time and is constantly enforced by all who participate in it. For Butler, gender performativity is the way in which gender is expressed in this discourse. For both Foucault and Butler, discourse can change depending on the circumstances. However, '[a]lthough there may be multiple acceptable femininities with regard to one's situational context (culture, location, time period, race, class, sexual orientation, etc.) (Chow 1999), Lenskyj (1994) argues that there is one correct version of femininity, which is termed hegemonic femininity.' (Hardy 2014: 1). Hegemonic femininity could be described as the foundations on which other versions of femininity are based, and at its core we might find ideas of women wearing dresses, heels, looking pretty and acting in a non-dominant, non-threatening way. The way in which this hegemonic femininity may be found in slightly different versions of femininity, for example the femininity of female fighters in HEMA, is illustrated in the following photograph of the women in INDES, an Austrian HEMA club:


In this photograph, the women of INDES chose to have a photoshoot in which they all wore black dresses in a way to demonstrate their femininity after a women-only seminar. The femininity they chose to display relates closely to the hegemonic femininity.


In going against the discourse of the situation, or the aforementioned hegemonic femininity, discipline plays a role. Discipline is a term that Foucault is well-known for writing about. He argues that discipline can occur both by the individual to themselves and by others to the individual. In Butler's gender performativity, disciplining might happen when a woman acts in a way which is considered masculine, thereby breaking the 'performance' she is expected to give. This break in performance may cause the woman to feel unfeminine and undesirable and may cause backlash from others.


In Elizabeth Hardy's article about women in Canadian rugby, the role of discipline, both by the individuals themselves and by others, becomes clear. Hardy examined the ways in which female athletes were portrayed by the media as specifically feminine in a way to 'make up' for their being an athlete, something considered masculine. She notes that 'although female athleticism is increasingly celebrated, those athletes who wish to be marketed must still be feminine and pretty in the “out of sport” context' (ibid.: 3). This expression of femininity to 'balance out' the perceived masculinity can be seen as a way to prevent backlash that might occur otherwise. In her article, Hardy looks specifically at female rugby players because of the sport's association with depicting and glorifying 'a defiant, unreconstructed form of masculinity, the kind of tough, hegemonic masculinity that books no opposition to the celebration of male supremacy through the aggressive body-in-action' (ibid.: 4). In other words, a sport that is considered to be so masculine that any women who participate in it can be considered to be going against hegemonic femininity. This is a situation in which disciplining happens almost immediately; a large issue in Hardy's article is female rugby players being stereotyped by the media as being lesbian. To combat these assumptions, Hardy describes many female rugby players as portraying themselves as very feminine outside of a sport context (self-disciplining) or being portrayed by the media as very feminine outside of a sport context (disciplining by others).


Comparing the situation Hardy describes to HEMA is, in a way, difficult because media only recently have become interested in HEMA as a sport. So far, no HEMA practitioners have been individually covered by mainstream media as far as I know. However, both Al Jazeera and the New York Times have done short video reports on HEMA events. In Al Jazeera's report on Swordfish 2014, the narrator, Paul Rhys, introduces Jessica Finley as follows: 'Contests are open, and American Jessica Finley relishes her chance to pit her skills against men' after which Finley is filmed explaining that 'there is a certain amount of fear factor, and there is a certain amount of tactical consideration you bring to the game. They're likely stronger than you, but you try to factor that in in ways that are demonstrated and written about in our medieval texts and try to apply your own fight to that moment' (Rhys 2014). Compared to the other fighter interviewed, Axel Pettersson, Finley's coverage is very gender-focused. Pettersson is praised for his winning of many tournaments and has a moment to explain why HEMA appeals to him, while the only moments we see Finley is when she speaks about being a woman in HEMA. This can be used to illustrate Hardy's claim that 'women athletes are always framed by their status both as athletes and as women' (Hardy 2014: 2). Interestingly, when the New York Times' Mac William Bishop covered the Longpoint 2014 tournament in September, three out of five

participants who were interviewed were women – one if which the aforementioned Jessica Finley - and none of them were asked about anything relating to gender. Finley's explanation of how fighting against men 'works' in Al Jazeera's coverage could be considered a way of justifying her – or any woman's – presence, a reaction to a quite subtle disciplining: having to explain her presence as a woman as opposed to being praised for her achievements as an athlete. In the New York Times report such a reaction is unnecessary, as the women interviewed have no need to defend themselves against disciplining from others.


Despite the presence of a hegemonic femininity, it is important to note that 'the meaning and categories by which we understand and live our daily existence can be altered' (Leitch 2001: 2485). Hegemonies can and do change – what is considered feminine can therefore change and has changed. As noted before, what is feminine depends entirely on social context. There are already different perceived categories of 'woman', both in daily life and in sports. In daily life, we have a different set of ideas when we think about 'housewife', 'business woman', 'tomboy' and 'pop star'. They all fall within the category of 'female', but have been placed on a scale from 'feminine woman' to 'masculine woman'. This shows the difference between the binary categories of 'woman' and man' and the scale from 'feminine' to masculine'. This 'scale' also comes up in some sports.


In Gender in ice hockey: women in a male territory by Gilenstam, Karp and Henriksson-Larsén, female ice hockey players showed to have a traditional view of men and women, with men being perceived as 'born to play ice hockey' and women as being 'too emotional'. This assumption of how 'normal' women intrinsically 'are' is also an assumption of what men should be: 'Although many, if not all, men do not achieve the apparent mental and physical status of hegemonic masculinity, many men and women behave as if it represented actuality.' (Woodward 2007: 26). In other words, though the reality is far from it, we as a society have hegemonic ideas of what men and women are, without them being completely based on reality. In sports, these assumptions become extremely visible: 'Without the gender prefix, the ice hockey player is a man' (Gilenstam et al 2008: 239). The assumption exists that because ice hockey 'is' masculine, those who play it are men. '[B]y this, the female player is constructed as something else, a deviation from the male norm in ice hockey and from the traditional image of a woman' (ibid.). In this article it becomes clear that the interviewed female ice hockey players are aware of their deviation from the norm. They describe themselves as being another, different kind of woman, one more masculine and less emotional than 'normal women' but not as 'naturally competent' as men. Through identifying themselves as an 'other', they both perpetuate the gender categories and go beyond them. To link this situation to Butler's gender performativity it could be said that these women know that what they do goes against the hegemonic performance of femininity, and so they perform a different kind of femininity. This different femininity, which they describe as being an 'other' kind of woman, attempts to use the positivity associated with masculinity in sports, but only works if once again 'balanced out' by sufficient femininity:


'The players describe the astonishment on people's faces when they say they play ice hockey, and the players seem to find it amusing, as well as making them proud … It is as if they change in the eyes of the observer; they gain positive qualities associated with men. … Some of the players are more strongly built and they do not describe the same positive reactions; they only describe astonishment. It seems as if it is less positive to perform a male sport if the woman does not look feminine enough' (ibid.: 242).


Considering this citation, we could ask questions about the earlier photograph of the INDES ladies in dresses. Why do they dress up after training? What inspired them to put on dresses, something typically associated with femininity? To emphasize their ability to fight despite being women? To embrace their femininity? Or could we read it as apologetic behaviour, making up for the masculinity of fighting? Either way, the answer is linked to gender performativity. These women might have felt the need to emphasize their womanness, and did so by performing their gender in a way they perceived to be typically female through one of the most hegemonically feminine objects there is: the dress.


Though Butler's gender performativity and Foucault's discourse are generally rather subconscious processes, there is another approach to theorizing how people present themselves. This is the dramateurgical approach, coined by Erving Goffman in his Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. As George Ritzer describes, 'Goffman perceived the self not as a possession of the actor but rather as the product of the dramatic interaction between actor and audience.' (ibid.: 376) In other words, the self is determined by how it presents itself, much like gender is the product of performances. In his approach, Goffman describes a front stage and a back stage. To illustrate these concepts, one might imagine a restaurant. The front stage is where the performance is held, the restaurant itself. It is the space where waiters act friendly and agreeable. The actors, the waiters in this case, have a personal front, the ways in which they dress, style their hair, the expression they wear, to make their role as a waiter believable. However, once they retreat to the kitchen, they enter the back stage where they might complain about customers with other waiters. The waiters may present themselves very differently once they are free from work and go to their friends. They

will rearrange their personal front, perform differently, and both the front- and backstage will change. Simply put, the performance people use to create their identity is a far more conscious process and very widely applicable in theory. When we compare gender performativity to the presentation of self, we might see gender performativity as the underlying 'stage' on which the self is presented, with the 'believability' of the act being comparable to discipline. According to Goffman, people use various techniques, like managing the personal front, to make their 'act' as believable as possible. Returning to the example of the rugby players who over-emphasized their femininity to 'make up for' the perceived masculinity of being a rugby player, we could say that they altered their personal front (looking more feminine) to create a more believable hegemonically feminine 'self'.


To relate these theories to HEMA, a short introduction is necessary. In December 2013 the HEMA wikipedia-style website Wiktenauer created an advertisement that was shared on websites such as Facebook. It depicted a half-naked girl with a book. A number of women in the HEMA community reacted negatively – they argued that they suddenly felt objectified in a space that they had, until then, considered gender-neutral. Not only that, but the advertisement was aimed at men, while the community consisted of both men and women. Fairly soon many people had responded with their opinions, discussions were waged and disagreements were had. One of the reactions was a post made by Lee Smith on the HEMA Alliance messaging boards. His post began as follows: 'It was a cute girl, with a book. Then in an instant a portion of the community is up with torches and pitchforks again. There is no nice way of putting this. We have much bigger problems with our image than a girl with a book' (Smith 2014). He went on to explain what he thought were important 'image' issues the HEMA community faced, amongst which were 'practitioners in bad shape' and 'bad fencing', and ended his post with:


'Your politics are like your religious beliefs. Keep them to yourselves, and out of the Historical Fencing/Fighting Arts. I do not care about your feminism, your chauvinism, your left, right, center politics, … your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, etc. … And for the love of the art keep your political views to yourselves.' (ibid.)


This, of course, sparked even more reactions, though surprisingly few from women publicly, on the front stage. It is difficult to say exactly why without making assumptions, but one reason could be that some feared backlash, or discipline, for bringing 'their politics' into HEMA, as Smith had said. Perhaps they did not want to present themselves as feminists, or perhaps it was not part of who they wanted to present themselves as. However, the Esfinges private group showed itself to be a place in which women could discuss the issue amongst themselves without fear of judgement. Using Goffman's theory we could therefore see the Esfinges private group as the back stage.



Uniting women

'I'd rather wear something to represent my club because I feel more affiliated with that group than with the “women in HEMA” group. I do notice that I am more aware of being a woman in HEMA when I am representing as an instructor on events or fairs. I will still not emphasize it [being a woman] without reason, but will jump on the case quickly if I detect any hesitation in a woman or girl if this is something they could be doing too, and try to encourage any female participants if they need it.' (P., The Netherlands)


Because of the large amount of HEMA websites and the small community, I have always found there to be

a very strong sense of a 'global HEMA community' amongst practitioners. Within this global community, various other communities can be discerned, such as regional communities (for example Dutch-Belgian and Scandinavian) and weapons, fighting styles and fighting traditions. Through Esfinges, another community becomes visible: a community based on gender. In this part I will try to explain how gender can also be studied as a community to explain the role of women in sports. Though it might seem like a strange association at first, I will be using theorists who concern themselves primarily with nations and nationalism because I believe their theories apply to all communities.


The first of these theorists is Benedict Anderson. In his book Imagined Communities he shows how nations can be studied as cultural artifacts and explains what causes individuals to feel a deep, natural attachment to them (Anderson 1996: 4). To immediately apply this to women in HEMA, we can ask why P. in the first quote in this section feels a responsibility to help other women in HEMA, despite not feeling like her gender is important. Likewise, we can ask why a group like Esfinges feels like it is their task to promote women's participation in HEMA, or why INDES felt the need to host a women-only seminar. These questions illustrate that there is an assumption that being a woman is a natural part of any woman's identity, that it is a natural category, and that there is a natural responsibility towards other women. Even in many (anthropological) gender studies in which gender itself might be questioned, the assumption that women are a category with an intrinsic allegiance to each other continues to exist.


Anderson highlights the feeling of 'naturalness' when it comes to nationality as well, and I think the assumption of all being part of the same group (be it nation or gender) is best illustrated in his explanation of why nations are imagined communities:


'It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion. … Finally, it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship.' (ibid.: 6-7)


If we take Esfinges as an example, the community is an imagined one because in a group of nearly 800 members, no one knows everyone and yet members feel enough of a sense of belonging that they wear the Esfinges patch. It is a community because the women of Esfinges are united in their being women who practice HEMA – the comradeship goes beyond age, class or nationality. Judging by how frequently 'female discussion points' (for example shaving armpits or legs) come up and are handled in a civil way (as opposed to discussions elsewhere on the internet), it is also a comradeship that goes beyond definitions of femininity. However, the female (HEMA) community is more than just Esfinges and might not even manifest itself as a conscious decision to belong. For example, when Eliisa Keskinen joined the discussion on whether there should or should not be women's tournaments, one of her arguments was that there was a need for female role models to inspire other women (Keskinen 2014). This argument is based on the – likely subconscious – assumption that women need other women to be inspired by. The same assumption is visible in P.'s quote; she feels a responsibility towards other women despite claiming not to find gender important and despite claiming a greater sense of belonging to her HEMA club.

A far more conscious way of displaying belonging is through the patches worn by HEMA practitioners on their fencing jackets. As mentioned earlier, these patches are commonly used to represent nationalities, HEMA clubs, or, in Esfinges' case, an idea or gender. The wearing of these patches could be seen as a way of using symbols to signify belonging to a group, or, taken a step further, as a symbolic reproduction of identity. This process is not unique to HEMA. Loïc Wacquant notes the same practice when studying boxers: '[T]he “regulars” of the gym express [the fact that they “share membership in the same small guild”] by proudly wearing boxing patches, T-shirts, and jackets bearing the insignia of the trade.' (Wacquant 2004: 68-69). The wearing of patches can therefore be seen as a symbol for a far deeper and more complex social construction: belonging to an imagined community and using this community to construct an identity: boxer, fencer, or woman.


In Michael Billig's Banal Nationalism the author spends a chapter talking about 'everyday flagging of the nation', which he argues can be both a conscious and a subconscious process. The conscious process is the obvious one: the wearing and displaying of literal flags. If we once again use a theory about nationalism on gender and community instead, Billig's work actually creates a bridge between performativity and community, like I have been trying to do. The chapter begins with a question and an answer: 'Why do “we”, in established, democratic nations, not forget “our” national identity? The short answer is that “we” are constantly reminded that “we” live in nations: “our” identity is continually being flagged' (Billig 1995: 93). With a slightly different wording, this citation becomes applicable to my topic: Why do women not forget their gender? They are constantly being reminded of their gender: their identity is continually being flagged. We have already discussed that not only national identity, which Billig discusses, but also gender identity is based on many assumptions of what gender is and how it is performed, and that there is a sense of belonging to a gender which, like a nation, calls upon a sense of responsibility and faces disciplining when 'done wrong'. Billig goes on to say that '[t]he limp, unwaved flag and the embossed eagle are not sufficient to keep these assumptions in their place as habits of thought. These assumptions have to be flagged discursively' (ibid.). When thought of in terms of gender, which is not just an M or F on a passport just as nationality is not just a flag, Billig's words come remarkably close to gender performativity, though painted against the backdrop of a community. The 'discursive flagging' he writes about is the everyday incorporation of nationality into daily life, much like gender is incorporated in daily life; in going to restrooms, in products bought, in separate dressing rooms, in women-only communities, and, in some sports, in separate women's leagues or competitions.



Conclusion: why Esfinges is important

'I have the dilemma of wanting to look like a woman, [be] seen as a woman, but not treated as one, i.e. being patronized or treated extra carefully.' (A., The Netherlands)


In looking at women in HEMA and other sports it has become clear that 'woman' can be seen as both a performance and a community. In gender performativity, being a woman means acting like a woman is

thought to be. Though the specific kind of femininity depends on the social context, its roots are always found in the hegemonic female. Challenging the boundaries of these categories of femininity or the hegemonic female results in discipline, both by the individual themselves and by others. In the context of sports, women might discipline themselves or try to navigate their way between categories by emphasizing their femininity to 'make up for' masculinity associated with sports. Gender as a community calls upon assumptions of the naturalness of gender as a category to which people feel an allegiance. To me, the combination of both gender as a performance and gender as a community illustrates the role of Esfinges as a group. I believe the key is the 'horizontal comradeship' that Benedict Anderson ascribes to communities. This may seem like a fairly unimportant or obvious thing, but when we apply ideas of discipline and gender performativity it becomes far more significant, as it proves groups like Esfinges to be a powerful method of defying categories of femininity.

In its creation of a private space and a public space, Esfinges has created what is essentially a back stage and a front stage in Goffman's terms. The back stage is for women only, and this is where the sense of gender as a community becomes important. Because of the 'horizontal comradeship' that defies many categories – age, class, nationality – Esfinges' private group has also developed a sense of community that goes beyond categories of femininity. This is important not just in challenging what femininity is, but also in creating a safe space for discussion where women have far less chance of being disciplined or feeling the need to discipline themselves.


We can also look at the situation of the Wiktenauer banner. If we link this situation to Foucault, we could ask ourselves who determined the discourse. On the one hand, we could consider Lee Smith – he made a very public post about it, and although some disagreed, some agreed as well. Or we could look at those who discussed the matter publicly. Many of them were men, but some responded through the Esfinges blog, creating a situation in which a female voice was strengthened because it was, in a way, backed by the imagined community of Esfinges members.


Through these processes, the very mixed back stage of Esfinges has created a rather unified image on the front stage: that of women, regardless of femininity. Because this front stage is accessible by all of the HEMA community, it immediately creates a space for women in the discourse of HEMA. When compared to the situation in the previously cited article about women in ice hockey, the importance of this space becomes abundantly clear. Because where women in the study by Gilenstam et al 'were aware of the fact that the arena “belongs” to men, and that “real” ice hockey players are men' (240), women in HEMA are aware that there is a space for them to discuss important issues, and that they are fencers. This is the strength of Esfinges, and its existence might prove useful to other sports in the future.



'I think there are things that women specifically need that would help them in their development and that there are certain stereotypes out there that prevent women from training. So giving women a space to show they exist (Esfinges) is a way to have those outside stereotypes either be less, or ignored by those who want to take up HEMA. I do have to remark way too often .. that just because I'm female it does not mean I'm useless in martial arts, so it's more like others emphasize I'm a woman when I say I do HEMA.' (P., Mexico)








Anderson, B.

1996 Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.

Billig, M.

1995 Banal Nationalism. London: SAGE Publications Inc


Bishop, M. W.

2014 Inside the World of Longsword Fighting. longsword-fighting.html

Gilenstam, Karp & Henriksson-Larsén

2008 Gender in ice hockey: women in male territory. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports 18: 235-249.

Hardy, E.

2014 'The female 'apologetic' behaviour within Canadian women's rugby: athlete perceptions and media influences' in Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics. London: Routledge.

Leitch, V.

2001 'Judith Butler' in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Company

Keskinen, E.

2014 Women's tournaments: meaningful challenges. challenges/ (03/12/2014)

Rhys, P.

2014 Keeping medieval sword fighting alive. fighting-alive-2014114183436445978.html

Ritzer, G.

2011 [2008] Sociological Theory. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Smith, L

2014 Forum post: Image and HEMA – A hard talk and bitter Medicine. f=7&t=3790&sid=406bed565d313e6a4de935e5e7e69cef

Wacquant, L.

2004 Body and Soul: Journal of an amateur boxer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Waitt, G.

2007 '(Hetero)sexy waves: Surfing, space, gender and sexuality' in Rethinking Gender and Youth Sport. London: Routledge.

Woodward, K.

2007 'Embodied identities: Boxing masculinities' in Rethinking Gender and Youth Sport. London: Routledge

The great fear of the Judge, and the great judge without fear

The views contained in this article are those of the author.

By:  Mariana López. 


Not so long ago I was working on a blog post that started growing so long it was more like the start of a book about fencers that are dangerous to have on a tournament, tools to detect them and ways for judges to work with them. This was both too complex and too problematic to explain in a length any person with procrastination needs would ever read, and this is why I decided to cut that project and shorten it into the real issue portrayed by my work:  Judges.


For the ones who don’t know me and might want more information on where I stand in the tournaments and Judging field: I’m not an amazing first place fighter (yet ;) ) But I’ve been able to fight in various tournaments in Mexico (Like the ones hosted by the Union de Artes Marciales Europeas “UAME” or National tournament) and some others in the USA (last being at Iron Gate Exhibition “IGX”). So far I’ve been judge and/or referee in at least eleven tournaments, last two being IGX and Longpoint internationally and UAME on a national level, and have been organizer or part of the organization on several national events (national tournament, Schwertkampf, Underground Fencing, etc.) Seven events in total plus a few local small events, and have helped as staff at events in the USA as well. Now this doesn’t make me a master but it gives me some experience to talk from (I think).


In this short experience I’ve been able to realize most of the common flaws occurring at least in the USA and Mexico when it comes to Judging and the problems it brings problems that I believe are pretty obvious. Then again I would like to remind the reader this is my personal opinion and everyone is welcome to disagree and provide a proper (respectful) debate on the subject.

It is well known or common that most of the judges at almost any event are volunteers, in this list of volunteers we find:

·         New HEMA practitioner who judge due to their lack of gear, confidence or such to enter a tournament.

·         Fighters who just lost their bouts or who are helping between fights because there is not enough people.

·         People who don’t fight that weapon.

·         Others (nice guys willing to not fight to help, organizers club members, etc.)



Within this situation of Volunteers, we then face many other issues when it comes to their judging: lack of understanding of what they are looking at and listening to (flat hits, fast exchanges and dangerous fight engagements, or having a hard time explaining the exchange they just saw if needed) especially for new fencers or people who don’t fight such weapon;  Lack of credibility being judged by the guy you just beat, or having an opponent being judged by a member of their own club often lead to an unconscious belief of the judge not being neutral, which is naturally very discouraging and there is also another common issue that is poor ability to stand up for the tournament ruleset...which, being this last point, is the reason for this blog.


Being a judge means accepting that you will be (or could be) hated while you are at it, and maybe it’s because of this or maybe is just for no apparent reasons that as judges we are constantly fearing to make the wrong calls, to the point some of us don’t stand up when it’s time to make some serious calls, and this is the biggest problem of them all (in my opinion of course). Led by thoughts such as “Did I see right? Maybe is just my perception!", avoiding making a call happens way too often but there is something we must face as judges; The worst judge of them all is the one who feels insecure, and by doing so don’t truly judge and allows the abusive problematic fighters to move on.


Many rules points get ignored, but the ones most ignored are the unwritten ones, Most of the rulesets recognize that certain situations are under the call of the referee/judges, and so this rarely happens. It’s rare to see a fighter being tracked in a tournament due to initial problematic behaviors since these behaviors are not getting responses at the early stages. Even with the obvious calls, it’s very often that a Judge saw things the referee and other judges didn’t and because of this, the judge decides not to mention it, meaning that the first call on a “dangerous or prohibited action” is actually the second, because when (for example) the first hit on the back of the head happen, many think “oh well it was just an accident” and it passes unnoticed, and while it might have been an accident there’s no reason for it not to be at least a call (even if without punishment) it’s to be understood the call HAS to be made, because the rulset say so.


This unwritten rules and the smaller safety calls are the most important ones and also the most ignored, mostly because there are always comments on how subjective it is to make these calls or how “exaggerated” it is to make them, but subjective should not be the reason to stop a call, the fear of how rational or irrational we think the action was can damage the entire development of a fight and even a tournament. Volunteer or not, Judges must be encouraged and should acknowledge the reason for having “power during the fight”, tournaments rules are made to allow certain skills of the fighter to show, and judges are the ones who both praise those who show them but also to remind those who don’t to do so, because if they don’t they are out. It sounds scary to have Judges with superiority feelings. The point is not to have such:  The point is to have a confident authority feeling.


Why is this so hard to some?

It can be hard to feel authority when you’re judging a fighter you believe is better than you, to others it’s hard when you don’t have that much experience and you have a short clue of what you are watching, but mostly, when you are just a cool HEMA fellow helping, helping is not the kind of favors that come with the feeling of authority, but this lack of authority means a lack of the character judges must have in order to provide a safer fight (and also in order to improve as judges) This is why I believe the following are the things every judge, volunteer or not, should be aware of before they start doing their job:


Judges self acknowledgement should be balanced: Within their job, they must realize the Judged are blind and stupid: We can’t see all, we won’t see all, and we might realize what we really saw on an exchange later when it’s useless but understanding that it sometimes happens. We should work to improve it, but it will always happen.


Judges also should acknowledge their responsibility: Not making a call, or not consulting with the team for what we think was a dangerous engagement or a breach of the rules can provoke a further accident or the unfair pass of a fighter who should not move on (even if that fighter is a good fighter), a fight that doesn't rely even on the smallest rules has no reason to be there, and a judge who doesn't call these mistakes makes the ruleset useless, and the development of the whole tournament turns unfair for those who do work and follow the rules (maybe even changing their style of fencing from what they are comfortable with.


Judges should embrace their confidence and authority : no matter how blind or stupid we are during the fight, thinking if the past calls were right or wrong, or avoiding calls by thinking “maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought It was” can be the breaking point of poorly focused calls and further accidents, such as fighters or spectators undermining your task and invalidating judges' credibility.


·         Judges must understand: If this is what you call and the fight moved on, then that is what it was, and there’s no reason to think about it again.

·         When you are a judge: no fighter or spectator has the power to intimidate or shout at your calls and if they try to do so, there have to be consequences. The only people at the level of consideration in your thoughts on an action are your judge team (or the fighter coach if the rule set says so) and then again, they can only put it under consideration, if you are firm on what you saw, you must remain firm on it.


Judge has no obligation to give further explanations once the fight is over: Yes, as judges sometimes we screw it up, and we know it, some might feel like going to the fighter and offering an apology (which sucks to hear as a fighter) some feel bad and don’t tell either way, that’s each persons call, but no matter what people say, Judging is not an easy job and it will never be.  There is no such thing as a perfect judge, from the time you move to the next fight you probably already forgot what happened in the past one. This feeling of having to defend yourself once your job as a judge is done prevents many judges from expressing their concerns over a fight, and that should not happen.  There are only a few things that will remain clear, it’s humanly impossible (unless you’re a genius) to remember every single exchange you saw, and therefore we have no reason to explain why or how we made calls after our work is done, the only moment we can feel like explaining a call, is when the call is being made. We have the right to tell people to stop asking about it, our job is done, and so our duty to explain. If we had to make a strong call and they didn’t like it, they can be the judges the next tournament.


We must remember: the worst judge is a judge with fear to fail, with fear to make a call, and with fear to defend it.


Yes a good judge will be built over the time, but knowing the responsibility and the place you stand on when you take the job, either because it’s your duty, because you like it or because you want to help the poor crazy guy who decided to deal with the making of a tournament, being aware of this points and embrace them will properly guide the judges improvement, it will prevent tournament accidents and increase tournaments quality. If you are asking for volunteers, remind them the attitude they should take within the job! 



Will Fight for a Website!!




"Te graphic will be updated every 24 hours"

For almost three years the Esfinges webpage has served well for its beginnings, but it was created with no knowledge of web design, with a “pre-made” program of .wix, an interface that is not user-friendly, and with a concept that is no longer suitable.

At over 2,000 Facebook likes, around 786 members, and a team created only by volunteers, we want to transform our old webpage into a tool that will help any newcomer into the world of HEMA, male or female, with quality, useful, accessible information in a friendly, stable interface. Rather than just a short, informative page about us, we want to transform it into a resource for those in need of good information. 


But, why create one more page, when there are so many already? 


We aim to take advantage of the views and visits we have to redirect people to other useful tools around the web in order to focus our efforts on our main mission: encouraging more women to start (and to keep) practising HEMA. Essentially, we want to become a 'front door' into the hidden HEMA community.

There are several ways in which you can help us achieve this:


1 Donating or buying Esfinges Products 


In order to have a web page of the quality it deserves, and thanks to the kind special rates given by our web team, we rate the cost of our web page at $800 (US). This is without considering the domain we already own. From this $800 Goal, Esfinges already owns $100 from its own store profit. There are two ways to help us reach this goal:

  • Donating as much as you feel in the Donation Link Below; we will continuously update the amount we have reached. 


  • Buying Esfinges Store Products: please consider that with each product you purchase we only make $1 or $2 profit, and that it takes four months for funds to move from the Store to our Paypal. Also, not all our products create profit (Such as the Fighters Against Racism products).

What happens if we make more money than expected?

If Esfinges makes more money than needed, the money would be either:

- Saved for future Web Page expenses
- Saved for future Sponsorships

- Re-donated to other HEMA projects (such as past year Esfinges donations to Wiktenauer)


2. Allowing us to promote you: as we mentioned before, we want to make the Esfinges website a tool not only for women, but for every HEMA newcomer or old practitioner. 


It is an ambitious goal, but one we want to meet with quality. Esfinges does have a main goal and we must focus and put our efforts into it.  So let us share your organization, blog or HEMA related page, that way we can all be focused on one thing, making it a quality one, with this being said:

If you have a:

• HEMA related Web page
• Fitness, training or HEMA-related Blog
• HEMA product store
• HEMA Federation
• Other related website.

Please contact us at: 

We won’t ask for any economical benefit in order to promote you, at the most we would appreciate that you promote our page as well*

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10 tips to help recruit girls to your HEMA club

The views contained in this article are those of the author.


By Mariana Lopez

On several occasions various people have mentioned the trouble of getting girls to try HEMA and after that, stay on… so we at Esfinges asked our members for ideas:




1.- Inclusive Images: There’s a large amount of advertising material of guys with swords  but having only guys might make it look like a guys-only activity. Try to have both girls and boys in your material. Give the message at the first opportunity: "This is for everyone!".

Image: Ilkka Hartikainen

2.- If you already have one girl and she is at a senior level, make her an assistant to the instructor: This will not only give the inclusive message right away, it’s also a great opportunity for girls who are intimidated by the perception of “guys only” to see girls can also rock at it.  Also if you have a female instructor, that’s even better.


3.- Avoid uncomfortable atmospheres: If there’s no other girl in the club and you have one visiting, make sure your members refrain from using comments such as “You look so cute with a sword.” or “You're so sweet when angry/fighting.”  - even if made with no bad intentions, these comments can make someone feel uncomfortable or self-conscious. They won't be able to relax and enjoy their training if they feel they are the focus of unwanted attention.  Sexist/homophobic/transphobic comments (e.g. "Hit like a girl", calling someone a "pussy", " that's gay") should not be permitted if you want to create a welcoming and inclusive environment.

Another aspect of this could be club members making sexual jokes over the weapons or equipment with the newcomers. Common Jokes like having several people holding swords and saying “mine is bigger than yours, if you know what I mean! Ha ha ha” (a joke that I'm guilty of making my self) can't go well with new members. While most of us have a sense of humor and many might laugh at or make those jokes, if there’s not many girls attending this can be highly discouraging for new ones. If you barely know someone it is not a good idea to make those sort of jokes anyway. I'm not telling you to hold the good humor, just reserve certain jokes for people you are close to, and know won't take it the wrong way. 



4.- Clean spaces are welcoming: This is true both for men and women, but it always helps to keep club members. Have clean spaces… if it’s a closed space; make sure it smells fresh and clean. And if you have bathrooms in your place...Oh please make sure they're the nicest ones, a person who’s grossed out by the place is less likely to come… And remember: Pushups make you look at the floor very close, we know when it’s dirty!



5.- Clean people are even more welcoming:  It’s already intimidating to deal with muscular, bigger opponents. To deal with intimidating muscular, huge, smelly ones would scare anyone. Encourage your members to clean their gear and to be clean and presentable themselves.


6.- Ease people’s fears: They won’t say it, but many people join HEMA classes with the idea that swordfighters must be athletic people. Yes they will work hard, but by letting them know when they start out that they don’t need to have experience of any kind, or super awesome skills, can be very helpful and reassuring.


7.- Don’t over-encourage sparring: This applies differently within different cultures. Some cultures (mostly European) have a more open female society, others (such as in Mexico) have very traditional views on women's behavior. Many girls are not used to having bruises at all, let’s not even mention being used to fighting… If your club is one of those that invites new people to spar right away, do so, but also don’t over-enthusiastically push them to spar in the first moments. Importantly, don’t make them feel bad if they'd prefer not to do so… coming to terms with the idea of a bruise can be a big deal for many girls (but not all).  



8.- Be sure to treat everyone equally  and individually: I don’t mean to tell everyone to do 10,000 pushups  and expect everyone to be at the same level, but especially in countries with these heavy gender-role traditions:  be sure to behave the same way to guys and girls in your club ( speaking as a Mexican in a macho culture - we are so used to it we fall into doing it even when we don’t want to some times). Being aware of cultural gender issues will help you, but don’t stereotype the idea… If you have a behavior for girls and one for boys it will go rather wrong.   But also don’t ignore the fact that each individual has different needs, approach your new girls as individuals and see their concerns before they start training so you know how to work with them and make their first class as pleasant as possible. 

Or in the words of one of our members “treat women as any other member *in* class, but outside of it let the women know that there are resources available specifically for them.”, which leads us on to...


9.- Talk to them about Esfinges on the first day!: What? Such shameless self promotion? Well YES! But with good reason… Some instructors have got into the habit of doing this and it apparently helps. If your club is male-only or has very few girls, pointing the new girls to Esfinges is an easy way to show them that HEMA are for Girls too, and that if they feel initially unsure about addressing some questions to guys, they can do it here. Female-specific gear for example: when there are no other girls, your new female students may well be reluctant to ask you about breast protectors.

 Having access to a place where they can see they are not the only ones will encourage them a lot.



10.-  Never underestimate self defense: Not all clubs do wrestling and we don't carry longswords and rapiers in our everyday lives, but HEMA are fighting arts fundamentally, many principles students will learn can be applied to real life situations… Self defense is a great empowering tool to a girl that will make her more likely to stay and improve her self-confidence. Try to find ways to incorporate it into your training.



By Mariana Lopez

All I want for Christmas...

The festive season draws near, party preparations begin and we look forward to a new year of fighting, events and new discoveries. But what does every HEMAist want to find under the tree or tucked in their fencing socks?Time is running out for shopping, so to help you we asked our sphinxes for suggestions - from the desirable and practical, to the quirky and creative.
1. Revgear Glove Dog Deodorizer - this handy pair of bags on a length of cord slips into your gloves after training - absorbing moisture and keeping them fresh for the next session. Creative types can probably easily make their own with lavender, fabric and some silica gel.
2. Round timers - always useful in class or at sparring, make the most of your precious training time. Nice stocking fillers too.  image description
3. What every longswordist needs, a feder! Regenyei Armory is a popular choice.  Regenyei Standard longsword feder
4. These wooden camphor balls are a great way to keep the funk out of your kit bag. Nice price too!  Aroma Scented Fragrant Wooden Balls
5. No wishlist would be complete without books. The Complete Renaissance Swordsman, Tom Leoni's translation of Manciolino's Opera Nova (1531) from Freelance Academy Press, is essential for students of Bolognese swordplay. And Dr Forgeng's translation of Meyer's Art of Combat is now available to buy from Purpleheart Armory.
6.  These are more stocking substitutes than stocking stuffers: nail this to the mantelpiece and hope Sammy Claws fills it with a case of rapiers ...the rapier bag from Cavalier Attitude.
Color bag in progress.jpg
7. If you want to get, or give, what is really desired, may we suggest gift certificates from Purpleheart Armoury and SPES.
8. Newbie, inexpensive gloves for light drilling. These are actually rather fetching, and will still leave you with money to spend on your next sword.
Picture of Briers B0212 Gauntlet Pruning Glove Large
9. On the other hand (see what we did there?) if you're looking to spar and/or compete with longsword, Sparring Gloves are your new BFFs. Try and get them off though, so you can unwrap the rest of your presents!
10. Your first priority when it comes to protective gear is your head, the black X-change from Leon Paul got mentioned in several letters to Santa. Don't forget back of the head protection too!
Black X-Change Coaching Mask
11. Your knees and shins will thank whoever got you these fabulous leg protectors.
Thor Motocross Force Kneeguards
12. Show your love of the art with beautiful HEMA-inspired Jewelry from    Ludmila Vankova-svozilova  and  Linn Granell.
13. Don't slip up in footwork or finances in these very affordable, multi-surface  trainers.
kipsta chaussures Agility 300 Futsal Trainers 8244610
14. The Knight Shop have a great range of Christmas deals and gifts, such as this beginners mask and waster set.
Sparring Long Sword + Mask
14. Draupnir Press are still setting up shop, but in the meantime you can donate to their kickstarter to restore plates from Joachim Meyer's 'A Foundational Description of the Art of Fencing'. In exchange you can receive all kinds of awesome goodies, while helping the HEMA community too!
Christy Stensland-Mains's photo.
15. Of course there are our very own online stores for the USA and Europe, where you can find a wealth of incredibly cool HEMA clothing and gifts.


16. Other stocking fillers we came up with: protein bars that don't taste of tyres, hairbands, fun coloured knee socks, heat packs, ice packs, heavy thera bands and grip trainers for recovering swordswomen.

So what do you want to find under the tree on Christmas morning?

Exclusive extract from upcoming novel: 'Goddess', based on the life of La Maupin by Kelly Gardiner, published by Harper Collins.

Esfinges member and author Kelly Gardiner thought you might enjoy this extract from her new novel 
Goddess, based on the life of seventeenth century swordswoman and opera singer, Julie 
d’Aubigny (or Mademoiselle de Maupin).


My father told me that if you take a blade in your hand, you take your own life and 
someone else’s life in your hands, too. Haven’t forgotten. 
But it’s more than that. When I take a blade in hand, I know what has to happen, what it 
means. I understand my opponent’s intention and my own. 
Everything is clear to me–outline, details, future, emotion. Not like the world, where 
everything is muddy and messed, and nothing ever works out the way you mean it to– no 
matter how skilful or how honourable you are, no matter how vile your enemy. 
When I was a child, we had the finest teachers: the Rousseau brothers, Monsieur de 
Liancourt–you’d hardly credit it, would you? The finest swordsmen of any age and there they 
were, drilling us all day, sitting by the fire with Papa of an evening, recalling every bout, 
every mistake each opponent made. 
That’s how I learned that fencing is like mathematics, like the logic of Socrates, the art of 
the ancients. There’s no luck, only genius and memory and slashed knuckles. It’s like music, 
with its own patterns and rhythm and inevitability. So is the body. 
Art, music, fencing, love, mathematics. All genius. All lyrical. 
Most of the men I’ve ever fought had no inkling of this– the deep mystery of it, the 
science of it, the intricacy–the intimacy–the knowledge that lives in your veins and muscles 
and soul. 
The fencing masters adjust your pose, your wrist, just as singing masters try to rearrange 
your throat and tongue, as concert masters order the notes, the cadence. I’ve had many 
masters. I hear their voices. I don’t need to, anymore, but they still speak to me, through me. 
‘Your only enemy is fear,’ Master Liancourt used to tell me. ‘The man before you is 
simply a pretender. Measure his impatience with the blade–slide it, tap sharply, test his 
reserve, his courage.’ 
‘All your stealth rests in your fingertips, all your power in your thighs,’ Papa said, over 
and over. ‘The strength comes only from your mind. Fingertips. Wrist. Thighs. Brain. These 
are your weapons. The sword is merely a beautiful accessory.’ 
On Saturday mornings, Master Liancourt paid a string quartet to play in the corner. Our 
footwork drills pounded in time with the beat. If they played a long jig, our legs would be 
ready to fall off by the end. ‘Lunge, retreat, retreat, lunge, flèche, en garde.’ His voice loud 
over the music, me humming along. ‘Lunge, lunge, and again, hold it there until I say, until 
the end of this gavotte. Straighten your back, d’Aubigny, head high now. Strong. That’s right. 
Hold it. No trembling. No falling.’ No trembling. 
‘Straighten your arm–the movement is only in the wrist; your wrist is liquid, your wrist is 
steel.’ And look at me now–at my hands. 
‘My dancers.’ He’d laugh. ‘My ballet. Let’s have a little divertissement. A minuet!’ 
Off we’d go again, grinning like madmen, groaning after a while, and eventually, one by 
one, we’d give up, legs gone to water under the intense pain, the boys all furious, despairing. 
Not me. I don’t crack. I outlasted them all. Until now. 
My father used to say, ‘Never let your guard down, never turn your back.’ Never did. 
The only certainty I’ve ever known lies in the purity of the blade. I always understand 
exactly what to do and when–what will happen next and how to respond. I don’t think. I 
know it–in my fibres, in my blood and my bowels. 
Just like the great masters, I remember every movement of every duel, as if they were all 
preserved in amber–frozen, perhaps, like trout in the Seine–but animated by memory. Every 
twitch of the blade, every parry–the foot tap, the blink, the drop of sweat on the end of a nose, 
the slight widening of the eyes just before pain makes itself properly known–a sleeve damp 
with blood, the howl of fury and defeat. 
And, yes, hatred. 
I never met a man who was delighted to be bested by a woman, except, of course, my 
darling d’Albert. Some laughed about it later; many became friends. But every one of 
them believed he would be the one to master me–even to kill me– and they all clenched 
disappointment in their teeth, no matter how chivalrous the handshake or how gracious the 
I can’t blame them. Disappointment has a horrible taste– I’ve never liked it myself–the 
way it burns on the tongue like sulphur and turns your belly to acid. 
I can admit now that I made the most of every victory. I strutted like a courtier, always 
made sure my smiles were the more munificent. I love winning. Who doesn’t? Only fools or 
those who’ve never beaten anybody. 
But I never saw duelling as a game. A duel is more like a very small, personal war. 
Nothing exists but the blades, blood pounding in your ears, breath and anticipation. Strategy 
and skill are all that matter–in fact, now I think about it, they are your weapons. Those and 
the reflexes honed by painful hours of training, the unbeatable instinct, and always the mind 
that remembers every word–every move–ever studied, discussed or witnessed. 
I had my favourite strategies, but never a signature stroke. Too predictable, d’you see? 
It’s all very well being famous for a certain move–the La Maupin Manoeuvre, if you like. 
But your opponents always know it’s going to make its tired old appearance, like a Lully 
tragédie, every season. The crowds clamour for it, which is all very well unless you are 
fighting for your life. 
As I so often did. 
Extract published courtesy of Fourth Estate, HarperCollins Publishers.
For more information on Julie d’Aubigny, see Kelly’s website:

Women in HEMA - Survey Results

We recently took a survey in our forum,129 Esfinges members replied. The aim was to find out more about our membership as a fairly representative sample of women in HEMA. And to build a picture of the female practitioner: 


She has been practicing HEMA for one to three years, primarily studying longsword. She's most likely to have discovered HEMA online and live in the USA. She hasn't studied any martial arts or fencing before starting HEMA. She considers herself a beginner and has no instructor experience. She has never entered a tournament. As a beginner she's likely to enter a beginners' tournament. She is even more likely to enter a women's tournament. There are 10-50 members in her club, of which 2-5 are female. The average class size is 2-10 people, of which 1-2 are women. She likes being a part of Esfinges for a variety of reasons, most of all to meet new people and make friends.


Results here.

Women and HEMA? What's the problem?

Esfinges spotted the original in the AMHE bulletin.  So here is a translation for those not quite fluent enough in French.  It relates to an exciting survey that the French HEMA association has conducted among its female members. We are very much hoping to find out the results in due course.

Thanks to Jeanne Breard for her permission to re-post.

The views in this article belong to the author.
Article by Jeanne Breard.
There you are, in front of a spectator who had come to investigate those strange people wielding swords and bucklers, or sabres.  You wear your sneakers, gym pants, and maybe even a nice compression top. Basically, the outfit is unmistakable.   You might even have your mask under your arm, still be wet with sweat from your last fight, red-faced and breathless.  Still the fateful question is almost unavoidable:
"But you? What are you doing? You practice?"  
Yes, you notice with a silent sigh, even all this fighting gear is not sufficient to bring home the message that women, as well as men, are involved in HEMA as fighters.  Admittedly, the men are the large majority here. It is also true that our archaic memory struggles to imagine women in an activities involving physical danger. According to some sociologists, women are more likely to be attracted to physical activities with a high aesthetic component.    Moreover, the symbolic dimension of the martial arts  is mainly oriented towards men. Stereotypes?  No, this is the result of thousands of years of human history that we can't easily sweep under the carpet. And the result is very clear. On average 10% of all mem bers per HEMA club are women. And while one can find exclusively  male HEMA clubs, the opposite does not seem to exist. 
At a time when the government promotes parity in all areas, HEMA is far from meeting these requirements. A decree from January 7th, 2004 has in effect introduced  a principle of proportionality  into the statutes of sports federations.  This states that the proportion of women in administrative/leadership roles must be equal to the proportion of female members .  For several years the Ministry's Committee on Women's rights has even aimed for  parity in the composition of leading committees of federations , quoting the example of the French Federation of Swimming,  where the steering committee comprises equal numbers of women and men since 2012.  These measures are intended to fight against a significant inequality in sport between women and men, due to the still recent admission of young women's into to competitive sport. (To just give one example, the admission of women into the Olympics was only agreed by the International Olympic Committee in 1928). It therefore seems legitimate to draw some parallels to the (low) female presence in our beautiful discipline.
However, it were not the governmental decrees that lead to these questions . The discussion around women in HEMA really emerged when Esfinges was founded in 2012, at the initiative of Ruth Garcia Navarro and Mariana Lopez Rodriguez, quickly supported by Fran Terminiello. This group aims to promote female participation in HEMA and provides a women's only discussion forum around various topics related to this issue.  However, Esfinges has not met with unanimous approval within HEMA. Many women (and it is clear that this is a very French trend, the initiative was much more warmly received in other countries) do not see the usefulness of such an organisation: why highlighting the differences, why setting oneself apart? To those skeptics, such a group has a tendency to highlight what separates women from men in an activity where they feel fully integrated in this universe, despite the strong masculine presence. Very often, these women do not feel the need to increase female participation by the way,  contrary to the governmental aim to achieve parity.   And the debate heats  up around  the  thorny issue of women's tournaments, supported by Esfinges (Editor's note: Esfinges does not support nor condemn women's tournaments, as all our members are entitled to their own, often differing opinions). While the main reason seems to be to give women the best  chance  to shine at a competitive level, many are opposed for very varied reasons , from a general anti-tournament stance to a different,  if not totally opposing  idea on how to enhance  female participation.  
Ranging from an external interest in female participation  up to  an internal interest within HEMA, with a wish to better fulfill official requirements in between, t hese are the debates and questions that have led to an increased interest in the presence of women in HEMA.   This is also an opportunity to assess the views of women themselves relating to these matters. This is why you have been approached recently via a questionnaire. Many have responded and many have asked themselves:  But why such a study? Is there a problem? Are these really questions worth asking?   I hope this introduction has answered your questions,  which are also shared by some members of the male sex. I take the  opportunity of writing in the HEMA newsletter to thank all those who responded and those who provided me with valuable additional information. It is now time for me to process all these  data for a better and  more objective  assessment of the vast and beautiful subject of  "women in HEMA." To be continued ...


Falling in love with HEMA: A beginner's view

The views contained in this article belong to the author.


By Rebecca Glass


Rebecca is conducting a survey on HEMA practitioners, please follow this link participate.


Just because a training sword isn't steel does not mean it doesn't hurt. I learn this the hard way; I come in too close during my first sparring bout, so Eric grabs my free arm, and then -wham - it flies right into my unarmored torso.

Such a hit would discourage many. I can’t say I blame them since one of the general axioms of life is “don’t die”, and yet when I finally make it home, the first thing I do is to sign up for more sparring sessions. How does this happen? Is there something wrong with my brain, or is it something more instinctual, a thirst for violence that seems to be inherent in humanity since the dawn of time? How do I go from the girl who stood in the far corner to avoid being hit during dodgeball to someone totally willing to hit (and be hit) by weapons which, in their purest form, are designed to kill?

I don’t remember when I first learned about HEMA; I’ve known about it for a while since my friend Amy has been a practitioner for a decade (has it really been that long?). My mistake was assuming that HEMA clubs were only something you could find in Europe, so I never tried looking as hard as I should have done. 

What is HEMA? For the uninitiated, the abbreviation stands for Historical European Martial Arts. It’s an accurate description, but also a mouthful, so sometimes the terms WMA (Western Martial Arts) and historical fencing are used; sometimes, when I’m less self-conscious about describing what I’m doing, I just tell people I sword fight. Nomenclature is important; although the term ‘fencing’ would, in fact, be the most correct term denotatively, the modern connotations - foils, epees, and all-white clothing - might give some the wrong ideas about what we do.

We aren't modern fencers, and the differences are such that it’s like comparing soccer and ice hockey. Yes, both involve trying to score by putting an object in a goal, but there the similarities end. So it is with us—yes, we use swords, but that’s about it. Our main weapon is the historically-based longsword, which is wielded with two hands (some also train one armed weapons like messer, saber, and sword and buckler, but the longsword forms the basis of our training); we compete in a round instead of on a piste because our footwork is non-linear, and there is more emphasis on power generation through hip movement. Oh - and instead of all white, our jackets and knickers come in black.

Why—if you must choose—do HEMA instead of modern fencing? The answer will vary based on who you ask; for me it’s a combination of a welcoming community and the idea that by learning the techniques of the old masters, we can do our part to preserve the history behind it. Modern fencing’s rules are well-established; and it reached the pinnacle of sports recognition—a place at the Olympic games—a long time ago. As a sport, we’re still in our formative years; our rules vary with each tournament, and whether or not to have tournaments at all was controversial, the question being: should HEMA be an art, or a sport?

I've always been competitive while not being very gifted athletically. My coordination is barely passable, I am slow to react, and I am smaller than most athletes save gymnasts and jockeys. So when people tell me that my size can help me, and that size really doesn't matter, I’m sceptical at first.

It turns out, however, that my classmates are correct. If my technique is good enough (and I admit that as a new student my technique has a long way to go), the rest will follow. I haven’t experienced it myself yet because I am too new, but I’ve seen it. I’ve seen a woman about my size, maybe even smaller, take on a well-toned man twice her size and do some damage.

It takes years to perfect a martial art; in fact dojos willing to award black belts in under a year or two or to young children are often derided as ’mcdojos’. We don’t have belts, but the idea is the same: no one gets good at this overnight. So, right now I'm more of a punching bag than an actual threat, but the idea that even could become proficient is enough to keep me going. 

The debate about whether HEMA should be an art or sport might seem rather academic, but its importance exists because your instructor’s conception of what HEMA is will color the way they teach: if HEMA is meant to be an art, then techniques are taught as though the ultimate goal was what you’d do if you found yourself in fifteenth or sixteenth-century Europe and had to defend yourself; if it’s meant to be a sport, then techniques taught will be designed to score you the most amount of points.

Some tournament organizers have recognized the conflict of interest and taken measures such as penalizing double hits (ie, when both fighters hit the other), because in an actual combat scenario the only rule that matters is “don’t die”, and any blow that leaves you exposed will give your opponent a chance to kill you.

Not dying is also a relatively acceptable goal for the newer students like myself for each class. I've already got bruises I can’t explain, and I've had to use my heating pad on my shoulder after any class that involves off-arm grappling (yes, grappling or, as it’s known in German, Ringen is a part of HEMA, especially when using daggers or messers). More than a couple have nursed broken fingers; other injuries are less common but not unheard of - up to and including knocks on the head. After all, I have to learn how to be hit before I can be unafraid enough to be aggressive myself.

If you asked me, after all of this, “why HEMA?” I would tell you that it’s because the sword is a beautiful thing. A well-crafted blade is a work of art—if you think I’m crazy, then please consider the arms and armor collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Wallace Collection in London, or the armory collection inevitably found in most major European capitals.

That’s how my love for swords started, anyway—I was in love with their beauty, the same way I love Caravaggio, El Greco, and Titian. Walking the streets of Toledo with my brother, I’d see the elegant blades in souvenir shop windows and beg to be allowed to purchase one (at that age I had no conception for the costs of international shipping). A year later, I did start collecting them: mostly broadswords, but an arming sword, a nineteenth century-style ceremonial replica, and a katana got added to the mix as well. Some were pricey, some were obviously meant for decoration only, but it’s never easy to look away—not for me, nor for anyone who’s ever seen them.

The jump from sword collecting to sword fighting is a relatively easy one to make: I have these gorgeous objects, and now I want to know how to use them. The fights themselves might not be as graceful to outsiders as those of Inigo Montoya or Rob Roy, but as I see it, anyway, knowing how to live to fight another day has a glamor of its own.


About the author:

Rebecca has been practicing HEMA since mid-July 2014 with the Sword Class NYC branch of NYHFA. In her day job she is a freelance sportswriter, concentrating mostly on baseball. 

HEMA Girl Problems

Inspired by BJJ Girl Problems we made our own list of HEMA women's problems. Then we enlisted the help of some of the most talented Esfinges artists to help and illustrate. Read and see if you can sympathise!

1. People saying "Oh, now I'm scared!" when they hear what you do. Because I'm going to to attack you with a sword in the next minute?

2. Hair. Everywhere. No matter how tight your braid is before,it's going to get loose and then there is hair in your mask, obstructing your view, in your mouth, stuck in the velcro...basically everywhere. And there is always one guy in the club, whose hair is longer and prettier than yours.
Picture by Leonie O'Moore.
3. Never being able to have beautiful nails. "Good hands" means: no bruised or broken fingers. Manicures are a waste of money. Better buy more swords!
4. Guys sparring with you like you're made of glass.

5. Big boobs. They are simply in the way for two handed weapon systems. The crappy plastic chest protectors make it worse.

By Michela D'Orlando


6. Leaving your make-up on for a training session: Running mascara anybody? Consider facial tattoos.


7. Being asked: "Don't you get big arms from this?" If only!


8. Looking awesome in full sparring gear. Looking not so good after taking it off. More like a wet cat, that's lost half its volume.

Drawing by Emilia Cecylia Skirmuntt, coloured by Urszula Michalska

. One more "helpful" dude suggesting a women's competition should be held in bikinis. Thanks dudebro, but your entertainment isn't the main goal here.

Picture by Urszula Michalska

10. Bruises. Also everywhere. Acquaintances keep asking if you are "alright", because you look like a domestic violence victim. Miniskirts and shorts are so much less fun if you look like a leopard in them.

Picture by Urszula Michalska

11. Guys sparring with you with the 'can't lose to a girl!’ attitude and really crushing you with all the power they have. And you starting to fear for your life.



12. Being the shortest person in your club, and always fighting "mountains".

Picture by Leonie O'Moore

13. People calling you a "swordsman". No need to change sex to do this.

Picture by Urszula Michalska

14. Getting really emotional when you are getting hit too often or too hard, or if you just can't seem to land a hit. PMS anybody?

15. Being an unusually tall woman, and being referred to as "he", as soon as you've got full gear on.

16. You just added ""Can't swing a sword for toffee" to your exclusion list for future romantic partners.

Historical European Martial Arts in the Far East

By Huang Chun-Yi, Taiwan.

The views in this article belong to the author.

As a child I liked to watch the knights in cartoon series. I wanted to be a knight, not a princess who always waits for other's help. I always felt that I'm a knight at heart. I wanted to study swordplay to learn being brave and keeping calm when facing difficulties. I live in Miaoli, a medium sized town at the West coast of Taiwan, one hour by train from Taichung in the centre, and 1.5 hours from Taipeh in the North.



When I was a first year university student in medical technology in Taichung, I found lots of HEMA and longsword videos on youtube. It was like discovering a hidden treasure. I sent an email to the HEMA Alliance and got some good tips on sources. That was in 2011. I used the videos to teach myself foot work, movements and postures. My first book was David Lindholm's book on Ringeck's longsword. Now I also train with friends at university in Taichung. We have a weekly study group of people with a background in Chinese martial arts. There I teach the basics of longsword to anybody who is interested. We drill and spar in university rooms or in the park. For sparring we use padded swords called EPW (Exile Padded Wasters) and sport fencing gear for protection. My main areas of study are German longsword after Sigmund Ringeck and sidesword after Dall'Agocchie. I have a steel sidesword brought back by a friend from the Czech Republic and a Cold Steel waster bought on-line. It is very difficult to get hold of HEMA specific gear like jackets or steel feders here.


In 2014 I found the "Fu Jen University European Swordmanship Club" in Taipeh on the internet. It was founded 2 or 3 years ago. Their head instructor is Li Tsui-Hua (Exile) who also produces the Exile Padded Wasters. His favourite weapon system is German longsword. The club has a monthly meeting called EPW meeting, where they practice all weapons including katana and European swords. I take part whenever I can. I learned a lot from sparring there. I have to adjust my tactics, because I'm short (147cm). I'm rather afraid of Scheitelhaus, and some counters don't seem to work for me, but I rather like to attack the lower openings!


My study group is small, 5 people. There are about 10 training regularly in the club in Taipeh, but many just learn by themselves using internet videos, which is a pity. All in all there are maybe 100 people in Taiwan studying Historical European Martial Arts. It's difficult to promote, because many people think HEMA is swordfighting they see in Western movies: brutal and dangerous, with little actual skill involved. If we use a steel feder, they believe it is a "real" sword".

In Taiwan a woman with an interest in swordfighting is considered extremely "unusual". Most people's view of women here is very traditional: they should wear skirts and the can't practice martial arts. But I'm lucky. My friends welcome girls at training, because few women attend, and my parents support me. Some male fencers will look down on me, and think that as a woman I am much weaker and easier to beat. I take this as a challenge to fight them. I want to show them that skill is more important than gender, that I'm not as weak as they thought, and that I can beat them! I like to test myself!


Inspirational Fighter: Jessica Finley

Jessica Finley has been involved in swordfighting for seventeen years and has been practicing German medieval martial arts for twelve years now.  Her favorite weapon is "probably" the longsword, but she has come to adore armoured fighting. She finds that weight and reach deficits are much less important in armour. A recent demo of her armoured fighting at Longpoint:  


Her home Club is Selohaar Fechtschule; she is in the process of starting a new club in her new hometown of Canton, Georgia.
Jessica also makes awesome medieval gambesons, wrestling jackets and other historical attire. Check out her website.
We are finally able  to buy her book on German medieval wrestling here.
An amusing sidenote: At a recent academic conference her upcoming book was mentioned in her speaker's introduction. The lady who introduced her added the editorial statement quote "She looks entirely too feminine to have authored that." 
We beg to disagree, you can't possibly be too feminine to be that badass!
Here is Jessica's story in her own words:
My first sword instructor was for a type of stage combat that was closer to what the reenactment groups in Europe do... limited target areas, no choreography (and no armor) but we weren't trying to injure one another either.  I found out about this group starting up that my boyfriend had been invited to and I demanded that I go as well.
I was nineteen years old, weighed 115 pounds, and loved to wear clothes from the sixties and seventies.  I showed up to my first sword practice wearing bell bottoms, a midriff top, and clogs.  But I loved it, and kept showing up.

Photo: Roland Warzecha

My instructor and friend later told me that when I first came to practice, he had thought to himself "I'm going to hit this little hippie real hard one time and she'll quit.  But Jess," he said, "you outlasted us all, and did more with it than we ever did."
So I would say to anyone in pursuit of this Art:  keep hunting for your expression of the art form.  Nobody ends up where they started from.

Photo: Chris Valli


Kastenbrust, arms and legs are by Trilobyte Armoury The helmet is from Windrose Armoury.
The wrappenrock and pourpoint are made by Fuhlen Designs.

The Novice - A venture into historical European martial arts.

Can you remember your initial sword class? What's it like? Kerryn Olsen of Auckland, New Zealand tries HEMA for the very first time.


The views contained in this article belong to the author. 


The Novice - Before.


What has led me here? Why am I standing in the driveway of a stranger’s house, gathering up courage to meet new people, and learn how to hit them?


Okay, so I’m not really here to hit them exactly. I’m here to learn HEMA, Historical European Martial Arts (or, as my husband likes to call it, High Explosive Martial Arts). I have no real idea of what to expect from tonight’s journey into the unknown, except that we will be focused on rapier work (Capoferro), owing to height restrictions in the living room.


You see, not only am I venturing into the past, I’m venturing into the past in a very distant corner of the planet (New Zealand), and while there is a solid group of SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) members who practise Sword and Shield on a Sunday morning, I want to start with real swords. I’m not in it for the outfits – though I have a few of them. I’m in it for both the exercise, and the historicity.


This is not my first foray into the past. I am a medievalist. It’s official – I have a certificate and everything! I’m a PhD in English and History, and my thesis/dissertation was on Anglo-Saxon female saints in post-Conquest England. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the past, thinking about life in medieval times, and thinking about the role(s) of women. While I have been focused on saints and nuns, other women have crossed my desk, and made me reconsider what women did in the past. The more you study history, the more you discover that humans haven’t changed much over time, and the same motivations and impulses which one feels here and now have been operating across that vast expanse of space which is the past.


As a child, I didn’t want to be the princess, waiting in the castle. I’m afraid I subverted a number of social norms, by acting out the part of the prince, and riding in to save people, and slay dragons. Then I grew up, and dragons showed up less often. I learnt that women are quiet, and kind, and do gentle things (which involve working physically hard for most of the day – housework is not for the weak!). I was dissatisfied with a lot of what I saw in society, but I was good, and didn’t question it out loud.


And then, just by chance, I stumbled in to Medieval Studies, and my world view and expectations changed dramatically. I discovered saints, and suddenly female role models - women who got out there and changed the world - sprang into being. At a small, local conference, I watched a fencing demonstration by a large fellow, who had been working through an Italian fencing manual from the 16th C, trying to put the descriptions and illustrations together into an actual movement. (I have a funny feeling this is the same guy who will be teaching me – but I haven’t got to that point in the story yet.) Quite by accident, I read a section in William of Malmsbury’s Gesta Regum Anglorum, where a young woman, recently married, held Norwich Castle against William the Conqueror’s army.


Concurrent to my PhD, I discovered the joy of martial arts. Friends persuaded my to join them at their kick-boxing classes, and I started MMA. While it was a lot of hard work, I loved boxing, I loved hitting things (and possibly people), and the training was the first time I ever enjoyed any exercise other than swimming. The MMA got me through my PhD, and I received my first belt the night before my dissertation defence. I’m not quite sure which I was more proud of at the time.


Then, as it often happens, life got in the way. Timetables didn’t work, so I had to drop the boxing. I got lazy, spent a lot of time on the couch, and depression set in. But I didn’t stop looking for strong female role models (have I mentioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer yet? I should have!), and I don’t quite know how, but Esfinges popped up on my Facebook feed. So I joined the group, and watched, and drooled over swords, and saw all the competitions which are happening way over there, on the other side of the world. Then I read an article here on the blog about Perth, Australia and one woman’s description of her experience. Somehow, that gave me the impetus to search for HEMA-related activities here, and I found the New Zealand Schools of European Martial Arts. I read through their pages, laughed through their FAQs, emailed their contact person, and so here I am, about to start a new section of a strange journey…




The Novice – During.


It is a cold – bitterly cold – winter’s night, but the first clear night for weeks. So we are outside, under floodlights. The instructor is the brother of the man whose demonstration I had seen. We’re to be playing with sabres, and he’s decided, since there are two of them (the experienced ones), and two of ‘us’, my husband and I, that we’ll start with the Highland Broadsword technique. He shows us the sabres, the wooden practise swords, and then brings out more swords to show us the differences over time. This is a Viking-style sword, this is a short sword, this a sabre, and this a rapier. This one has the true cross, and this one doesn’t. (Hmm, my brain files that info about the true cross away – must look into it…) There’s so much to learn, and he is giving us an info-dump. We will go away and look things up afterwards, but in the mean-time we are handling swords!


And then we’re playing with the sabres. He makes us throw it out – snapping it straight in front of us, learning the play of the movement. Then there’s the first guard, leaning the sword against the shoulder, and up to snap out in front. And a second guard – holding it near my head, and aiming for the instructor’s head. And a third, across my body and aiming for the jaw. Some foot work – I keep trying to do more, but that’s the boxing speaking.




Holding my arms up, at right angles to the shoulder, gets tiring after a while, but I have an advantage. I’m a lefty when I’m working with single instruments, usually, but I’m pretty equal-handed. When I express a curiosity as to which hand I should use, one of the instructors recommends right, so I can practise with each of the others, while the other instructor says he’d like more practise with his left. So I alternate. Sometimes my right arm is better – I think it’s generally stronger. Other times, my left is more on target – possibly better for fine work.


I’m peering under the sword, held at head-height. It’s freezing cold, and I’m having a lot of fun. And so begins a new chapter of my life. But next time I’m bringing gloves.


The Novice – After


So now we have the Highland Broadsword poster – which I think I will enlarge, laminate, and place on the wall outside, next to the bit of flat ground we have. I’m off to find something in the dowelling line, for my husband and me to practise with. (Swords will be bought, but we’re going to have to wait a bit, practise a bit.) The cat was pleased that we were playing outside, but now he’s watching me askance. Perhaps the sticks should be being waved lower for him.

On the edge: HEMA in Western Australia

The views in this article are those of the author.


Perth, Western Australia, the second most isolated city on the planet. Here you can find the paradigm-busting black swans, and historical European martial artsT-J Richardson tells her tale. 


I first got into HEMA around four years ago. A friend and I had always loved the idea of European sword fighting, mostly influenced by books (Tamora Pierce), family history, movies etc. We both thought only the UK, Europe and US had any real clubs, so we tried a bunch of martial arts, but never really settled.  


Then my friend found this group. So we went and tried it. I loved it, we trained in a front yard with three guys, shinai and wasters and it was exactly what I was looking for. Full contact, technical, historical and modern at the same time. I did that once or twice a week for about six months, then both my parents became very ill and I had to stop. 


After my Father got better and my Mother passed away I had some time and I needed to do something for myself, I really wanted to get fit as well so I decided to go back. I started back in September 2013. Best decision. I am the fittest I've ever been, I have found my true passion and it has done wonders for me on all levels. I would train every night if I could 



When I began training there was only one other female fighter, Kim, and she was a cleared fighter with a few tournaments under her belt. Kim did a great job in making me feel welcome and giving me a hand to navigate the all-male scene.  In all honesty without Kim's support and seeing how far she had gone I think I may have limited myself and just considered my training as a way to get fit, have fun, meet new people etc. (which seems a tad boring now I look back!) rather than setting my goal of becoming a competitive fighter. Once I decided that I wanted to compete I had to acknowledge what the playing field was: All men bar one, every single person taller than me, with more training. 

I did some research into Women in the sport in Australia and spoke with some of the female non-combatants in our group, jumped online etc. and found not a lot.  Swordplay 2014 (Australia's unofficial National Sword fighting competition) was also being discussed/planned at the time, that's when I found out there were no female combatants last year as far as anyone can remember, I was a little shocked that attendance was that poor nationally. I expect it in Western Australia, we are isolated, behind the times and have a very small WMA community full stop. I was contacted by one of the SP14 organizer's who is keen to have more women compete and a really good discussion ensued on Facebook including: the difficulties women face in western martial arts eg. Sir touch and feel, how to encourage more women to go to Queensland to compete and what training sessions would interest female fighters. That's how I found Esfinges, one of the female fighters said join and I did, brilliant move! 

While the scene here is limited it has been great to have support from within my group as well as from the complete other side of the country. On the flip side I have had to deal with some pretty blatant and not so blatant sexism in my group. One of the guilds is male only, I've made my distaste over this known in several ways. I was eventually invited to training but only as an associate, not a member. I found this patronising and while I went once I now choose not to go. 
Despite a lot of training it took me six months, not the standard six to eight weeks, to get a clearance fight in the beginners class. Other male fighters who attended less training, had less experience, (are still not cleared to fight steel) and who had been there far less time were given clearance fights before me. 
I considered leaving because I felt I had proven myself over and over again and was still not being given a clearance fight. It was suggested I should demand one but it irked me that the trainer still thought me not ready/skilled etc. and I don't like begging, which was what it felt like. 
I finally cleared in March 2014 against the national long sword champion and I kicked butt...well I had my arse handed to me but that's kind of the point, rather I took it bloody well, kept getting back up and never stopped fighting! I put myself through two minutes of full contact, full intensity against some of the hardest seasoned fighters for four weeks in the lead up. 
I did that for three reasons:  To prove to any doubter I was more than ready and twice as hard core as any other recruit; Proper preparation prevents poor performance; I am a little crazy, title of The Terrier suits me. 

I feel I shouldn't have had to do that (even though it will only make me a better fighter). I feel that I've had to prove myself twice as much in a lot of ways, especially in resilience, I feel I was held back from getting a clearance fight not because of a lack of skill but because somehow I'm more fragile or breakable as a female, physically and mentally. 
I would like to say it was all great now I'm a fully fledged fighter but there are still a lot of barriers to break down. Some of the male fighters still like to treat me like a novice, some go too easy on me, some won't acknowledge hits, some think I'm an easy target. My reactions are all to often compared to a males. All I can do is concentrate on developing my own style and practice, practice, practice. 

My two main trainers are great, they take the time to consider the differences (as they do for each fighter in their groups) and find workarounds for me. They are always encouraging and even though they are volunteers they spend time outside training working on techniques for me. Neither has any qualms about pushing me to my limits, dumping me on my arse or grappling with me till we both have each other in a leg head lock stalemate. They only go easy on me when trying to show a technique and I'm under explicit orders to dump anyone who under estimates me on their arse...still working on that. 

The women in the group, who are not all fighters, have been great towards me. I was paid the highest compliment by another female fighter the other day, she said she fights a little harder when I'm at training, I nearly cried! 
Some male fighters have been less than accepting, some are just old and stuck in their ways like assuming I'm a butch lesbian, to which I responded "so what if I am nor not, how does that affect the ass kicking I'm about to give you?". 
Other male fighters think it's great to have female fighters and encourage me to recruit more women, to which I respond it's up to all of us to recruit men and women. Some women will respond to a female fighter recruiting, some won't, I don't give a crap I just want to fight people, male, female, purple people eater. 
Most people outside of the club just go "huh?!? what's that? is that like what they did in that movie Role Models" which point I wish I had my long sword. 
After I explain I get asked "why on earth would you want to do that?!?"...still want my sword. 
I often get asked if I'm allowed to fight the boys..yes, yes I am. 
"But there were no female Knights" is a common response. 
"Why don't you fight in a dress?". 
I work with law enforcement and when I come in covered in bruises I often get asked if I need to talk to a professional about my domestic violence issue, I tell them they should see the other guy. 
I have been called a dyke, and other worse names I won't repeat, told I was un-feminine, called a crazy bitch, told I was too intimidating and asked to refrain from talking about fighting.  
Speed dating is fun: 

"So what's your hobby?" 



"...I hit people with swords" 

"...oh, look times up see ya." 


The most positive responses come from the fetes and fayres that I've done. The young girls love it and love to see the girls beat the boys. I often end up being the crowd favorite, I think it's because I look like the under dog being 160cm short, which is about a foot shorter than the other fighters. 
For any women out there reading this and thinking about taking up HEMA, I was going to say "Be prepared, ask questions, go watch a few training sessions" but that's so....cautious, and caution will hold you back in HEMA and in learning.  


If you're interested in HEMA there is a reason - grab that with both hands and dive in head first, your reason might alter slightly, grow or change all together, so what - do it for you. 





Sonja Heer: German HEMA Federation President

By Sonja Heer, Kassel, Germany
I have always been interested in martial arts, but my parents wanted me to dance classical ballet instead, because "that is more for girls" and they feared that someone could hurt me. After school I could no longer go to the lessons because of the working hours of my internship. I really like dancing, but at this time I'd had enough of performing on stage and was looking for something more "real". A friend took me to his HEMA training and I decided to stay. I train at "Historisches Schwertfechten Nordhessen e.V." in Kassel Germany, mainly longsword (Liechtenauer Tradition), but I'm also interested in langes messer, dagger, ringen, sickle, rapier, polearms, sidesword, sabre...Sad that I can't do everything. At the moment I focus on sickle-interpretations and German longsword. I have also trained Ju Jutsu for 3 years.

Sonja demonstrating her longsword skills in traditional garb


Since 2013 I have been an instructor at my club (after a year of being assistant instructor), and since 2011 I've worked as the club treasurer. I am still a bit surprised at my election as chairwoman of the German HEMA Federation. There had been talk about founding a German federation for the last 10 years, but it had been difficult to bring people together. Last year I joined a preliminary IFHEMA meeting in Dijon with Heiko Meckbach in order to translate for him. Back in Germany we initiated a founding group with members of different German clubs. The main drivers were Heiko and I. Marcus Hampel and Friederike von dem Bussche were also very active. 
At the founding team meeting.
From left to right back row: Alessa, Alexander, Thore, Predrag, Thorsten, Christian , Thomas,  Marcus.
Front row:  Roman, Martin, Friederike, Sonja.


The German HEMA Federation DDHF (Deutscher Dachverband Historischer Fechter) was founded on the 21st of June 2014. I was elected president. We have three vice presidents: Friederike von dem Bussche (treasury); Martin Betzenbichler (sport and development), Thore Wilkens (education). Predrag Nikolic is youth representative Roman Schwiertz, Alexander Klenner, Thorsten Kästel will act as ombudsmen.  Roland Fuhrmann is our international ambassador and representative at IFHEMA. Alessa Pinnow, Marcus Hampel, and Thomas Rehm are auditors. Christian Bott represents high performance athletes and Heiko Meckbach is responsible for gender equality. It is an unusual decision to give this position to a man, but I know him well and am sure that he will do his best. The men need to be heard, too ! ;) 
As president, I see my main functions as mediating between different opinions, and planning for the future. We want to support HEMA groups in Germany, and assist them with founding procedures. Our aims are to improve education, to give advice and to represent HEMA as a sport, but also as a matter of research. One of the next important goals is to develop a standard education for instructors in their function as sport coaches and as interpreters of historical resources. A long term goal is to get officially recognised by the German national sports federation. For this we will need to represent 10,000 individuals. As mentioned: it's a long term goal!

Best of British: Susan Kirk & Jennifer Garside

Sue and Jenny are well-respected figures in the UK HEMA community, both having a wide sphere of interests within and without the art that come together to produce two formidable and highly knowledgeable fighters.
On the isle of Man 
Original photo by:  Jackie Phillips



Jennifer Garside: 
I started  Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA)  in 1997 or 1998 with the Dawn Duellist Society (DDS)  while I was at University in Edinburgh studying for my BSc. But when I moved to Aberdeen for my MSc and later to Cambridgeshire for work, there were no local clubs. So there was quite a long gap where I was unable to do much!  When I moved to Cheshire, I was a member of the School for Historical Swordsmanship in Leeds for a while, but the travel to get there (about an hour and a half each way) was getting too much, especially after I was made redundant and later self employed. Not willing to give up on HEMA completely, Dave Banks and I spoke to Ian and Phil, old friends who Black Boar in Scotland and set up the Cheshire chapter of the group. 
Along with Dave, I now run the Cheshire chapter of the Black Boar School of Swordsmanship I am also part of a group called 'The school of defence',  run by a friend.   We offer costumed displays of self defence through the ages, using HEMA techniques, but in a  scripted theatrical display to entertain and educate the public.  The photo with me and Sue was taken on the Isle on Man at one of these displays, that one concentrating on the late Victorian and Edwardian period.
I'm currently mostly looking at smallsword, Bartitsu and antagonistics with a particular personal interest in the links between Bartitsu and the suffragette movement.  I am interested in body mechanics and how you can apply the principles to use any type of weapon  once you understand how a body works .  Being small and naturally left handed, I also have a fascination with how techniques can be adapted to suit an individual fighter's strengths and style of fighting.
Although HEMA is my main love, I am also a reenactor, modern boxer and, as mentioned above, am involved in doing costumed theatrical demonstrations to the public, too.  In the past I have seen a degree of an 'our hobby is better than your hobby' attitude (from all sides!),  I feel all of these hobbies have so much to offer each other and would love to see more crossover and cooperation to help improve what we all do.
Jen, corset maker extraordinaire, modelling her own creation.



Susan Kirk:
I started sports fencing in the late 1980's, studying a pretty classical style. I did well in various competitions and after university ended up coaching the officer cadet fencing team whilst I was in officer training at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.  I've also been a reenactor since 1986 and was really interested in learning realistic stage fighting.  My first 'real' start in HEMA was in 2000 when I joined the Society for the Study of Swordsmanship (SSS) Leeds, learning rapier and 'finding' the 'British Federation for Historical Swordplay' (BFHS) at their twice yearly events. I was hooked. 
Pretty similar to Jen, I have really enjoyed  Smallsword and have been honoured to be asked to instruct at the Smallsword Symposium in Edinburgh for the last couple of years - I'll be there again this year.  I also love a good 'combat hug' and am fascinated by the body mechanics involved in the Jiu Jitsu/wrestling found in Bartitsu and antagonistics as well as starting to get into boxing. I have also instructed a number of workshops in Bartitsu.     A small group of us have banded together for the last few years to do costumed demonstrations of Bartitsu/antagonistics at historical events such as the big English Heritage event in the summer, museums etc.  My other interest is in sabre, as I love the fluidity of the weapon.
I live  near Halifax in West Yorkshire and train with the  Cheshire chapter of the Black Boar School of Swordsmanship.
I'm also a bit of an 'itinerant instructor' as I love being able to get people interested and learning new things. This interest led me to getting my IL1 instructor with the BFHS at their first ever assessment weekend.
I had the honour to be appointed the President of the BFHS 2009-2011.   It was certainly an interesting time in the evolution of the BFHS and I was pleasantly surprised with the very positive reception I had during my tenure.  I enjoyed running the 'Symposium on the Western Arts of Swordsmanship' ( SWASH) for a few years and other events, and I particularly liked the international camaraderie developing in HEMA at the time. Several national HEMA bodies were firmly establishing themselves and looking across the international HEMA community for ideas, structures, ways of working etc - perhaps we should all do our bit to ensure this continues?
Sue in her SSS dress uniform at SWASH
Foto by: Joanna Sonnex



The Women's Weekend at INDES, Salzburg.

Original article in German by Susine Pomeranz, translation by Claudia Krause. Photos: Eva B.

An account of awesome things...

Last January we had our first Women's Weekend for club members. In the first weekend in June we invited women fencers from all over Austria and also Germany.  This time we had to organise overnight accommodation , which helped to raise spirits even higher. No better way to get to know each other than watching Game of  Thrones together or having a feast at midnight!


ATMOSPHERE: We got to know each other on Saturday morning and started off with a sword focused meditation exercise, led by Julia P.  So everybody was happy and relaxed. We mostly trained in a very focused manner and did silly things in between. On the second day many suffered from "lack of sleep",  but the workshops remained very intense. So an increasing number of girls took up an observing role as time went on.


WORKSHOPS: As mentioned: the program was intense. Sonja Here came especially from Northern Hessia and introduced us to halfsword techniques by Hans Czynner.  This was something we had had little experience with in Salzburg, and was therefore particularly interesting. Our very own Julia and Hannah drilled "Duplieren" with us.  There simply had to be another knife-throwing session with Roni. Leona, who is organising a rapier seminar in Salzburg this autumn, introduced us to this  elegant single-handed weapon. I showed a few ground wrestling techniques from our training program. And that was just the first day!


On Sunday half of the participants fell asleep during the body perception exercise according to Feldenkrais. Then Julia held an introductory dagger workshop,  where we even got to learn the  "super special bonus technique" that never works in everyday training. I followed by trying to teach all Meisterhaus and exercises  for good body alignment in 1 and a half hours. We skipped the Zornhau in the end! Leona's workshop on active and passive free-fencing gave us participants quite a few  new and surprising insights. And then it was time to say good-bye. The small fechtschule-style tournament ended up being really small, because many had to head home already,  and others were simply too broken. Verena T., Sonja Here and I bashed each others' heads (or noses) in, while Eva B and Julia P practised their newly acquired  judging  and refereeing skills. 


ORGANISATION: This was the most awesome thing for me. Simply everything ran like clockwork. By now, the INDES members have become a seasoned organisational team.  Buffet, dinner, workshops, photography, collecting people, accommodation, breakfast provision for the guests and chauffeuring ... everybody contributed.  I particularly want to thank Eva B. for photography and hosting, Julia F. for coordinating the program and tournament organisation, and Julia P for the lunch buffet.  And I need to mention one other person, who created something amazing through her own initiative: Barbara Keller of the  Freyfechter in Vienna, she created an emblem and a first draft for our own homepage. THANK YOU!


Original text by:  Susanne Popp Translated by: Claudia Krause Photos: Eva B
Eine Aufzählung an Dingen, die überwältigend waren 
Nachdem im Jänner unser 1. Ladies Weekend noch vereinsintern statt gefunden hat, haben wir am 1. Juniwochenende Fechterinnen aus ganz Österreich und auch  Deutschland eingeladen. Dadurch kam dazu, dass auch für Übernachtungen gesorgt werden musste, was im Endeffekt für die gute Stimmung äußerst dienlich war.  Wenn man abends noch gemeinsam Game of Thrones schaut oder Mitternachtsjausen nach dem Fortgehen abhält, dann schweißt das schon ordentlich zusammen!
STIMMUNG: Schon am Samstag Morgen war nach einem neugierigen Kennenlernen und einer schwertorientierten Meditationsanleitung (von Julia P.) das allgemeine  Gruppenklima heiter und entspannt. Wir haben meist sehr konzentriert trainiert und zwischendurch allerlei Blödsinn gemacht. Da am zweiten Tag viele von uns  „übernachtig“ waren und das Training trotzdem sehr intensiv war, haben sich gegen Ende hin immer mehr Mädels in die beobachtende Rolle begeben .
KURSE: Wie erwähnt hatten wir ein dichtes Programm. Sonja Here ist extra aus Nordhessen angereist und hat in Halbschwerttechniken von Hans Czynner eingeführt.  Etwas, womit wir in Salzburg noch wenig Erfahrung haben und das deshalb umso interessanter war. Unsere Julia F. und Hannah haben uns das Duplieren eingedrillt.  Messerwerfen mit Roni musste auch wieder dabei sein. Leona, die für Herbst ein Rapierseminar in Salzburg organisiert, hat in diese elegante, einhändige Waffe  eingeführt und ich hab ein paar Techniken aus unserem Bodenkampftraining gezeigt. Das alles nur am ersten Tag!
Am Sonntag, nachdem die Hälfte beim Feldenkrais eingeschlafen ist hat Julia P. einen Grundlagenkurs zum Dolch abgehalten wo es am Ende sogar die  Superspezialbonustechnik gab, die sich im regulären Training einfach nie ausgeht. Dann versuchte ich, alle Meisterhaue in eineinhalb Stunden inklusive  Übungen zur Körperstruktur zu vermitteln. Den Zornhau haben wir uns gespart! Bei Leonas Einheit zum passiven und aktiven Freifechten hat es einige Aha-Erlebnisse  für uns Teilnehmerinnen gegeben. Ja und dann war es auch schon Zeit zu verabschieden. Die Mini-Fechtschule am Schluss fiel leider wirklich nur sehr mini aus,  weil viele schon die Heimreise antreten mussten oder einfach schon zu kaputt waren. Verena T., Sonja Heer und ich haben uns noch die Köpfe (oder Nasen) eingeschlagen,  während Eva B. und Julia P. ihre neu erworbenen Kampfleiter-Fähigkeiten austesteten.
ORGANISATION: Dieser Punkt hat mich eigentlich am meisten überwältigt. Es ist alles wie am Schnürchen gelaufen. Mittlerweile sind die INDES Mitglieder schon ein  eingeschworenes Orga-Team. Buffet, Abendessen, Trainingspläne, Fotodokumentation, Leute zusammen holen, Schlafplätze anbieten, Frühstück für die Gäste machen und  Leute mit dem Auto abholen…da hat jeder dazu beigetragen. Aber ganz besonders hervor heben möchte ich nochmal Eva B. als Fotografin und Gastgeberin, Julia F.  für die Zeitplanerstellung und Fechtschule und Julia P. für das Buffet. Und noch eine Person möchte ich erwähnen, weil sie Unheimliches aus eigener Initiative  geleistet hat: Barbara Keller von den Freyfechtern aus Wien. Sie hat uns ein geniales Logo kreiert und vor ein paar Tagen einen ersten Entwurf für eine eigene  Homepage erstellt. DANKE!

Women as Warriors: Gender and History

The views contained in this article are those of the author


By Imogen Rhia Herrad


Jeanne d’Arc is - perhaps - the most famous woman warrior in history, but she was emphatically not the only one. At all times and in all places women have taken part in the business of war: openly side by side with their brothers, their husbands, their fellow members of the tribe; or else secretly, disguised as men.


The Scythians, a nomadic people livinig in the Eurasian steppe, probably inspired the tales about the legendary Amazons - a nation of warlike women - told by the ancient Greeks. Amazons occur already in the ‘Iliad’, Homer’s 8th century BCE epic poem. In Greek minds, the stories about Amazons depicted a nightmare scenario. There was only one way for their philosophers and scholars (almost all of them men) to explain the reports of travellers who had met, on the shores of the Black Sea, mounted and armed women: Scythian women warriors.


Greek and Roman thinking was strictly dualistic: there were different and separate spheres for men and for women: men’s work was out in the fields, on the battlefield and in politics; women’s place was in the house. A people made up of women and women who fought side by side, in a kind of equality that probably really did exist among the Scythian warriors, was inconceivable for Greek men, and thinkable only as reversal of existing conditions: women dominating men instead of men dominating women.


For a long time, the Amazons were thought mere inventions; sisters of the sea monsters and centaurs who also inhabit the Greek tales. However, in the mid-19th century archaeologists excavating in the southern Russian and Ukrainian steppes repeatedly encountered ancient women’s graves which contained not only ‘typically female’ grave goods such as spindles, jewellery and cosmetics, but also spears and arrowheads.


Almost one in three of the Scythian women’s graves contain such typical ‘mixed grave goods’: weapons, jewellery and make-up. Well over a hundred of these tombs have by now been identified; the oldest is over three thousand years old. But there is no need to go as far away as the southern Russian steppes to find prehistoric women warriors. They existed elsewhere too, and much closer to home: for example, on the edge of the Swabian Alb [in south-western Germany].


Prehistoric graves have no headstones. All you have is a skeleton that has survived the centuries more or less unscathed, and a few grave goods. Name and identity of the dead are almost always unknown, as is their sex - unless you can draw conclusions from physical features or additions. Until very recently - in some cases still today - [German] archaeologists proceeded extremely simply, projecting traditional gender roles into the past.


In cases where a skeleton was found with weapons - arrowheads, spear, sword - it was declared male. Skeletons with jewellery or household items were identified as female; regardless of the fact that other - even past - cultures may have known different divisions of gender roles; regardless of potentially different individual cases and without allowing for transgendered individuals.


The warrior of Niederstotzigen was identified only through DNA analysis as, in fact a warrior woman. There is a second, not completely preserved, Niederstotzingen skeleton which is probably also that of a woman, as an anthropological investigation has found. It is quite possible, even likely, that these two Merovingian women warriors are not isolated cases.


Female burials containing weapons are known from the same historical period from known across the Baltic States, England and Scandinavia. Even written records about medieval warriors exist. The 13th-century Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus wrote:


“There were once women among the Danes who dressed themselves to look like men, and devoted almost every instant of their lives to the pursuit of war, that they might not suffer their valour to be unstrung or dulled by the infection of luxury. For they abhorred all dainty living, and used to harden their minds and bodies with toil and endurance. They put away all the softness and lightmindedness of women, and inured their womanish spirit to masculine ruthlessness. They sought, moreover, so zealously to be skilled in warfare, that they might have been thought to have unsexed themselves.” [Sax. Gram. VII.359]


Like the ancient Greek and Roman authors, Saxo disapproves of those women. During his lifetime, in the High Middle Ages, stricter societal standards were being defined and enshrined in European societies, including standards for gendered behaviour. Distinct and mutually exclusive qualities were attributed to men and women. All women were now thought to be “soft” and “lightminded”, while all men now had to be “ruthless” and “skilled in warfare.”


Until the end of the Middle Ages, however, it continued to be possible for aristocratic women, at least, openly to go into battle, even if they were seen as exceptions. Virtue and femininity were not yet mutually exclusive in contemporary thinking, even though different gender roles were coming to be understood to be part of the divinely ordained order, which made it much more difficult for both men and women to break out of their prescribed gender roles.


If women still wished to go to war, they had to disguise themselves and pass as men. Again and again, we have reports about warriors or soldiers who turned out - on the sickbed or in death - to be women. One of the best-known cases [in German history] is Eleonore Prochaska, who fought under the alias of August Renz in the Prussian army, was wounded in battle in the autumn of 1813, and some weeks later died of her injuries. Plays and poems were written in her honour; with Ludwig van Beethoven setting a - now-lost - play about her to music.


We have no way of knowing how many women fought, disguised as men, in the 1813-1815 anti-Napoleonic wars. Twenty-three of them are known by name, but the real figure is likely to be higher. One of them was even awarded the Iron Cross for bravery: Sergeant Friederike Krueger, a 23-year-old farmer’s daughter from Mecklenburg [in north-eastern Germany] who fought as a man in a Prussian infantry regiment.


The West German constitution banned women from joining its Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) until a first breech opened in 1989, when the music and medical corps were made available to them. Combat remained an exclusively male preserve. At this time, Alexandra Klein joined to the German army as a medic. Today she has the rank of captain and works as Equal Opportunity Officer at the Bundeswehr Leadership Center.


Today the last legal hurdle has fallen: In Norway, combat functions were opened up to women in 1985, and conscription for women will be introduced in 2015. In Germany, electronics engineer Tanja Kreil went to court for three years, ending up in the European Court of Justice which on 11 January 2000 decided Bundeswehr had to make all areas accessible for women - including combat.


Today around 18,000 women soldiers serve in Bundeswehr, almost 10% of the total force. Captain Alexandra Klein explains that requirements are the same for men and women. In addition, she explains that while it is natural that men have more muscle mass and generally a bit more strength, this is complemented by the often stronger mental staying power of women.


But the mere fact that all areas of the military are now open to women, and that female soldiers and officers are now also exposed to combat, still heats some minds. Opponents of women in combat argue that women tend to have inherently less aggression and are possessed of more empathy and compassion. But scientific studies have shown that differences between men and women - both mental and physical - are far less than is commonly assumed.


Women continue to storm bastions that once were open only to men. In Germany, Ursula von der Leyen was inaugurated as the first-ever female defence secretary in 2013. It was hardly a revolutionary move. Previously, amongst European countries alone, Finland, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Sweden had already installed women at the top of their defence ministries. Women in battle, women in command of armed forces: this is nothing new, but simply a normalisation. Women have always been warriors, soldiers and generals


Original article available in German as a blog post and podcast here

Fighting Like a Girl


The views contained in this article are those of the author.


By Nula Para Nada


I play with swords.


I love the way a sword feels in my hand: serious, balanced and dangerous; almost, when I train hard and often enough, like a part of me.


I love the dance. Circle, step, feint; counter, strike; the musical ring of engaging blades, the beat of footsteps in advance and retreat. Until I’m pouring sweat and gasping for air and the muscles in my sword arm scream and burn; and still I just grin behind my mask and keep on dancing. I leave every session with a euphoric high that fades after a few hours and a constellation of bruises that don’t, but I don’t mind: I’m already waiting for the next time.


HEMA is a rich mix of experimental history and competitive martial art. It teaches me so much; I now know more than I ever thought I would about renaissance duelling, for example. But it’s the other stuff that compels me to keep coming back every week, to stick with it when it gets tough. It teaches me certainty and intention; direction and clarity. To know my strengths and my weaknesses and to make weapons of them all. To focus my anger and my fear down three feet of cold steel. To watch, to wait, and then to seize opportunity and drive the point home. It teaches me to let go of both my failures and my triumphs, to neither anticipate nor fear what is about to happen but to keep my head in the single sliding moment between one step and the next, one cut and the next, ready and aware and open to opportunity. It teaches me to trust the work, to keep putting one foot in front of the other; that if I build my strength, practice, drill and spar and drill, and drill and spar some more then when I come to fight my sword will know exactly what to do. It teaches me to always keep the pointy end towards the enemy.


As a woman I’m in a tiny minority in my school. I don’t know why this is, there’s no culture of sexism in my club, I’m not singled out, excluded or given special treatment because of my gender; if I was I wouldn't be there. Sometimes it’s tiring, fighting people who are mostly bigger and stronger and more aggressive, better at hiding their hurts. Sometimes I feel like quitting, because it’s hard. Because there are days when the sword is slow and dull as lead, my arms are weak, and when I take a hit it shocks my bones so hard I want to cry.


But I'm not quitting. Because there are monsters in the world, lots of them. They’re old and they’re strong and they’re much, much bigger than me, they're holding hands and dancing ring-a-roses with my own personal demons, the ones that have been hitch-hiking my psyche since childhood. I don’t know how to fight them; I don’t even know if I can fight them. But I've picked up a sword and I've begun to learn and every day it feels a little bit more possible.


Growing up with the Star Wars films I, like every nascent geek and budding nerdlet of my generation, played out faithful playground movie re-enactment games, defeating the Dark Side and rescuing the galaxy time and again; space battle by space battle, duel by duel.


While the boys argued over who had to be Chewbacca each time, I was always cast as princess Leia, by default. I told myself I should be happy. I got to be a Princess, after all. Wasn't that what all little girls wanted? But waiting in my climbing-frame death star prison to be rescued I harboured secret, shameful desires. I didn’t want to be a princess. I wanted to be a space pirate. I wanted a pet wookie and the fastest ship in the galaxy. Most of all I wanted a light sabre. I wanted to be a hero, and the captain of my own spaceship.


I wasn’t stupid. I knew that in the narrow world of primary school gender policing this was the sort of thing that got you branded with the dreaded gay, so I kept my transgressive mouth shut and buried my desire for independent intergalactic freedom while I waited, bored and restless, to be rescued by the boys.


My seven-year-old brain had intuited something very important about stories and about women and especially about women in films. In too many of the stories that I absorbed as a child girls played a marginal role, they never got to be the heroes. The most important thing about girls, it seemed, was that they were very pretty, and that they fell in love with the heroes. Leia, like most other girls, spent a lot of time waiting to be rescued. Yes, she was feisty; she strangled Jabba the Hut with his own chain. But she had to do it in a bra.


I heard the same message again and again and again: Girls do not have their own stories. It doesn’t matter how strong and brave they are girls only count if they're pretty. They can strangle as many Jabbas as they like but if they don’t look good in a gold bikini while they’re doing it no-one’s going to write them into the movie.


It sucks to grow up with that playing in your head, it really does. It sucks every bit as much as it does to be a little boy full of normal, human fears and anxieties and emotions and dreams, told again and again that to be a man is aggression and domination and power, and nothing else.


I first started practicing Martial Arts in my mid-twenties. A friend saw an advert for a kick-boxing class in our local community centre and persuaded me to go along with her. The next day I ached like I’d never ached before but I went back the next week anyway, and the week after that.


My discovery of martial arts was physically transformative in a way that remains difficult to explain. At the time I was reminded of an essay I’d read as an undergraduate called ‘Throwing like a girl’. The essay examined the results of a study in which girls and boys were given a simple physical task – throwing a ball -- and had their performance analysed. The results are predictably depressing: boys tended to engage their whole bodies, to throw their will into the action, angling their bodies and drawing their arms back to arc the ball as far as possible. Girls though threw awkwardly, without commitment, from the elbow, falling far short of the boys’ efforts. Even allowing for the physical differences between boys and girls the girls under-performed far more than their bodies should have allowed. It was as if, the writer of the study observed, they decided before they even approached the task that they were going to fail. And then they did.


The essay writer compares this to her own experience of trying to jump across a stream. She clings to a branch, hesitant, watching her fellow hikers cross easily. I will fail, she tells herself. I can't do it, she tells herself. Her body freezes, hostage to fear and self-doubt.


There have always been women of great physical accomplishment; athletes and explorers, duellists and pugilists, trick riders and trapeze artists; fearless, strong and expert in their fields. Likewise, there have always been men who fail miserably at getting a ball anywhere near a target (and consider playing with balls something best left to dogs and simpletons). These are generalities; it’s complicated. But the essay resonated with me when I first read it, and it resonates with me now.


When I began to apply myself to the physical challenges of martial arts a choir of voices in my head piped up to tell me I would fail, and why I should give up. You're uncoordinated, they said. You’re no good at this, they said. You're going to look stupid, they said. You can't do it, they said. But I learnt, gradually, not to listen. I switched them off, let myself flow through siu lim tao on trust and muscle memory alone and broke through a barrier in my mind that I'd never even known it was there. I no longer said to myself: ‘I can’t do it.’ Instead, I asked: ‘how will I do it?’


I felt more powerful, confident and comfortable in my own skin than ever before. In martial arts I learned the value of patience, humility and hard work. My training became a much-needed source of focus and calm. I loved it. It lit me up from the inside. My friend and I analysed the fight choreography in every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and attempted to replicate it in the local park. We considered ourselves trainee slayers. We scared the crap out of some dog walkers.


When I’d been training for a year or so my teacher suggested I enter a tournament to improve my sparring. I told my boyfriend at the time, expecting him to be as thrilled as I was.


‘I don’t want you to do it,’ he said.


‘Why not?’


‘I don’t want to be in a relationship with that sort of girl.’


It felt like he’d slapped me in the face, hard. Only worse. ‘What do you mean? What sort of girl?’


‘I don’t want to be in a relationship with the sort of girl who beats people up. It’s not attractive.’


Dear reader, I wish I could tell you that I laughed in his face and didn’t bother to slam the door on the way out, but I didn’t. I suppose the primary school gender police were still living in my head; I don’t know if those bastards ever quite go away.


My experience of martial arts was one of camaraderie and dedication and of hanging out in community centres with computer programmers arguing Donnie Yen versus Jet Li. But the question people always asked me, like I’d become a testosterone fuelled meat-head itching to test my bare-handed killing skills, was always: ‘So, do you reckon you could beat someone up?’


I turned down the tournament. Honestly? I was scared anyway. Scared I’d end up spitting teeth and gobs of my own blood onto the mat; scared I wasn’t any good. That time, the monsters won.


Ever since my Han Solo/Princess Leia epiphany I’d been seeking out stories of heroic girls and women. Some of my favourites live in the Irish myths; riotous, powerful and even down-right nasty. Queen Maeve the cattle raider, Scathach the weapons master in her island fortress, teaching the secrets of the salmon-leap and the dreaded Gae Bolg; the war goddess Morrigan; the terrible, the three in one.


A few years ago my warrior women began nagging at me. They whispered geasa, demanded tribute. Not enough stories told of us, they said, not enough songs sung. They poked me with their bony fingers. Your turn, they said.


I began researching, looking for the right story to tell. I wanted to find some evidence of real Celtic warrior women, discover how they lived and why they died. I scoured the archaeological record for the tracks of their chariots and the marks of their weapons but I found nothing.


The consensus was that beyond a few stories told by medieval peasants to the monks who transcribed them and some untrustworthy anecdotal evidence from contemporary Romans there was nothing to suggest that women in pre-history had ever borne arms. In the re-enactment community, an inspirational source, ever helpful and full of detailed practical knowledge, someone even suggested that women shouldn’t be ‘allowed’ to fight in demonstrations of period warfare even if they wanted to, because it would be misleading. Boudica, it was suggested to me, had been only a figurehead. Just like Princess Leia she didn’t get to be the hero in her own story; she might be leader of the rebel alliance but when it came down to the final battle the boys moved in for the kill and Admiral Akbar took the helm.


Archaeologists say that ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’; I refused to give up. And while I never found the hard evidence I was looking for – a manicured, skeletal hand still clutching a sword hilt, perhaps? - I did discover why they might be so conspicuously absent.


In September 2013 archaeologists discovered the 2,600 year old body of an Etruscan Prince laid on a slab in a tomb in Italy, clutching a spear, with the cremated remains of another body (his wife, the experts surmised) at his feet. A month later the bone analysis came back with surprising results. The Etruscan Prince was, in fact, an Etruscan Princess; and her 'wife' was actually her husband. The experts changed their story. The spear was not, as they had previously suggested, an indicator of high status and military prowess. It was there to ‘symbolise the strength of union’ between the woman on the stone slab and the man at her feet.


Accurately determining the sex of skeletons has only been possible in recent times. Before DNA testing, the gender of a skeleton was determined by the objects it was buried with. If these were cookware, bowls, jewellery or mirrors, the skeleton was classified as female. If it was buried with axe-heads, shields, spear points or swords then it was declared male.


For hundreds of years archaeologists have re-written the past according to the stories they were told, when they were growing up, about what girls are and what boys are. How many warrior women’s stories – or those of men who divined in looking glasses and wore amber beads in their hair – were lost to us?


I kept practicing martial arts. It gave me something too precious to lose; I couldn't walk away from it. And I kept looking for my warrior women. And I found them, all over the world. I kept thinking about stories, about how our lives are stories that we tell each other and ourselves, how we grow up turning the stories we’re told into what we believe about ourselves and the world, and so we make them true. When I discovered HEMA it felt like the beginning of a new story. It’s a quest story. It’s a hero’s journey; it’s a tale of rags to rapiers. I don't know how it ends yet.


I’m telling new stories. They’re for me, and my monsters. They’re for my nieces and for the daughters of my friends because I don't want them to grow up worrying whether they're pretty, I want them to grow up knowing that they're beautiful. I’m telling stories about a sword-wielding auntie who salmon-leaps over great rivers in one bound. About an Iron Age boy with a magic mirror and amber beads threaded in his hair. About a roguish space-pirate who answers to no-one and drives her spaceship like she stole it.


I play with swords. Because I’m not waiting around to be rescued.


I’m slaying my own damn dragons.


HEMA Beyond Limits


The views in this article are those of the author.

By Iole de Angelis


I am fully aware of the issue that people may feel offended by the term “handicap” but be aware that the French government addresses sport issues related to disabled people as “handisport” and it is not my intention to offend anyone.


First of all, I want to explain the reasons why I want to talk about the practice of HEMA in the case of the differently abled people, as they are called in French. In fact, I belong to this category that has been called handicapped, disabled or differently abled. My handicap (obstacle) is not visible, and this fact adds a handicap to the handicap since “I do not look sick”.


Most of the time, when you talk about handicap, disability and so on, people think about wheelchairs, people who cannot see, people with learning difficulties and other visible issues. There are also other obstacles related to depression, to autoimmune diseases (like my case), to accidents, to personal stories (shocks and so on) that create great weaknesses or barriers for people that make it difficult to do certain things. Personally, I like the expression "handicap" since it means obstacle and "differently abled" since it means that to do something you need to find out a personal solution or you need to do it in a different way. I do not like the term “disabled” since it means “not able” because I am able to do things even if in some fields it is more difficult than for the average person.


In my case, I suffer with several autoimmune diseases (Lupus and others) and one of them almost killed me. I needed dialysis, I have a shunt for hemodialysis and in January 2014 I received a transplant. During dialysis I suffered a double detachment of the retina but luckily it solved by itself. So, I have first-hand experience of several kinds of handicap/disability and my purpose here is to talk about historical European martial arts and how they are open to differently able people.


In the past, warriors could suffer injuries that would lead them to lose parts of their body, but, in most cases they kept fighting since it was their way to gain the resources to live, so they learnt how to fight even if they had physical handicaps. One famous example is Lord Nelson. He partially lost the sight in his right eye in 1794. In 1797, as Rear Admiral, he lost his right arm during an assault on the Spanish base of Santa Cruz in the Canary Islands. He also received a severe head wound at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, after which he spent two years recuperating in Naples where he met Lady Hamilton. He used his injuries to his advantage: during the Battle of Copenhagen (1801) where, ordered by Admiral Parker to cease the attack on the Danish fleet because of early losses, Nelson raised a telescope to his blind eye and announced "I really do not see the signal", before going on to destroy the fleet and preventing its use by Napoleon. It is a way to change a weakness into a strength and it is what a good fighter is supposed to do.

Admiral Lord Nelson



We rarely fight hand to hand for a living anymore, but many like me will not want to give up their martial art even if they suffer from a handicap or obstacle. In my case, if I receive a hit on my shunt I have a good chance to die for real and I need to find the right solution to keep my practice and preserve my life and well-being. Others might discover martial arts as a way to overcome their limitations. In some ways visible handicaps are easier to deal with, as restrictions are more obvious and easier to classify. This makes it, for example, easier to create competitions where fighters with a handicap can measure their skills.


The International Fencing Federation has created categories for people in wheelchairs and with impaired vision to compete in Olympic fencing. Invisible handicaps pose a particular challenge in martial arts, as it is often up to the instructor to determine if these pose a threat not just to the martial artist with the handicap, but possibly to others. Since they are invisible, the others may not be aware of the limits or the risks related to the practice with this person. Sometimes a warning is enough and sometimes it is not enough. I use myself as an example: if I explain to the other person that because of a microscopic polyangiitis ANCA, by the time the training partner has understood what I can and I cannot do because of my problems, it is time to change partners.


In other terms, invisible handicaps that pose no danger to others still imply a particular challenge: it is often difficult for other club members or the instructor to understand how the handicap affects the fighter. It is hard for somebody with an invisible handicap to explain that they cannot do certain things, and that this is not because they are lazy or overly afraid, but that they have real reasons not to take part in some exercises. It is easy to feel excluded and misunderstood. On the other hand, certain psychological and hormonal illnesses as well as certain drugs like cortisone might make fighting with the affected person unsafe since he or she may have no control or lose control and go berserk. In particular, berserkers (or berserks) were Norse warriors who are primarily reported in the Old Norse literature to have fought in a nearly uncontrollable, trance-like fury, a characteristic which later gave rise to the English word berserk. This may be good to slash people in a war, but it is not good in a martial art practice. On the other hand, martial arts can be beneficial for emotional well-being and aid the recovery of a person with a psychological illness, and it would be unfair to exclude them just because of their particular handicap. I personally have met a young lady who had a very difficult personal story (father in prison and so on) and thanks to a Japanese martial art she could avoid the downhill path she was taking, she ended in the French national team and she lives a normal life.


Other handicaps might make injuries that occur in free fencing very dangerous. It is for example extremely risky to get hits on the forearm, if one has a dialysis shunt. If you get a cut in your shunt you die in about 5 minutes and if you receive a hit you may not be able to have dialysis and thus you die. For such handicaps "Kata competitions" might be interesting. Wouldn't it be great if such opportunities were available in historical fencing as well? In addition, Judging and refereeing can also be very rewarding, if one enjoys the thrill of the fight without being able to take part oneself. Luckily, not everything in HEMA is about competing. A large part of the spectrum of HEMA activity is historical research and study of the original manuscripts and their techniques. For this reason there is room for people with a large variety of skills, abilities and limits.


Everybody is valuable. This is why I keep up with HEMA: I find this aspect of HEMA is particularly fascinating and I am certainly not alone in this. It is important to carefully consider each handicap individually and adapt the practice to the limits of each person. Special equipment can help. For example, a person on dialysis needs to preserve their life-saving fistula or dialysis catheter. Consequently special protections for the arms or the abdomen are required. Transplanted people will need to protect their organ. People with cancer may find it useful to stop more often, people with heart diseases may find it useful to practice at a slower speed and so on. But since a sport activity improves all kind of physical conditions, HEMA is useful for people with health problems especially because it is quite easy to tailor and adapt the training.


In conclusion, given the many ways one can be involved in Historical European Martial Arts, this is an open world for whoever has a passion for history, research and/or physical activities. When you find the right club for you and you practice with the right people, you forget your handicap, you forget your problems (at least for a while). This is a most amazing moment and feeling, because I feel normal and I take a holiday from my limits since I feel that I have no limits.


Women fighters from history: Louise Labe


Louise Labé: A rope maker's daughter, she was the leading figure in the literary culture of mid-sixteenth century Lyon, a prolific writer and early feminist.


Although her father was himself illiterate, he had Louise educated like her brothers in Classical and modern languages, and in fencing and equitation.


Her half-brother François was a fencing master, and Louise was an accomplished fencer in her own right, as amply documented by contemporary writers. Indeed a number of poems praise her brilliant performances in the lavish tournament of 1542, in honour of the Dauphin Henri's passage through Lyon.


Meet the Presidents - Part 2 of 2


Four presidents, two continents, one HEMA.

Interviews by Fran Terminiello


Karin Verelst - First President of the Belgian HEMA Federation



How did you first become involved in HEMA?

I’ve always dreamt of being a warrior, even as a young girl. During my time at university, I’ve been wandering through several Asian martial arts (karate, aikido), but I never stayed for longer than a year or so. I thought I had found my place when I started shaolin kung fu in the year 2007, but then I was elected Scaliger Fellow at Leiden University during academic year 2007-2008, which brought again an interruption to my fighting career. When I came back home I wanted to resume my martial activity, and somehow I fell during a search on the internet on a site on European medieval swordfighting. I was instantly mesmerised, looked for a group that practised this strange new art in a way that appealed to me (i.e., a combination of source based techniques and demanding physical training, and with ringen as a full part of the curriculum), and not two weeks later I participated in my first Sunday afternoon SwArta-training dedicated to HEMA, a pattern that I have followed for six years ever since. In the mean time, I also took up boxing and tai jutsu.


How did you become the president, what is the process and how long will you hold office?

I am one of the seven founders of the Belgian Federation. We decided to start our federation after Dijon 2013, where the first formal steps toward an international HEMA-federation were taken. We felt that we should, as Belgian HEMA-community, be a full part of this exciting process. As for my presidency: the constituting meeting of the founding members of a non-profit organisation according to Belgian law acts legally as the first general assembly, during which I was elected as president. So I am the founding president. I shall remain in office for three years.


Belgium has an old tradition of the fencing guilds. When you set up the federation, was there an aim to emulate the original charter in some way?

Well, we chose a nice latin name — Societas Belgarum Scientiae Nobilis — to start with. But the Belgian Federation is a modern organisation that takes in its statutes the legal requirements for formal recognition on the national and the international level into account. So in this respect we are moderns. However, our founding general assembly took place at the Kruispoort, a historical site which is home to one of the oldest Belgian fencing guilds still in active existence, the Sint Michielsgilde at Brughes. Moreover, our seal represents weapons favoured by our martial ancestors. We are at the moment investigating how we can balance our future rôle as cultural heritage community and upcoming sports federation, and it is really encouraging to see that the responsible ministry at state level is very supportive in this respect. It is, moreover, absolutely true that deepening both knowledge and practices along the lines of our rich martial heritage is one of the top priorities of our federation. Study of the Belgian sources with respect to the guild structure and the rule sets used at various occasions is but one important aspect of this aim. Nothing has been decided yet, but there are serious plans to organise a traditional “Spelen naar het Koningschap” tournament according to the old guild rules, in an appropriate setting. You’ll definitely hear more about it when the time is ripe!


What is it about HEMA in Belgium that makes it unique?

As you already mentioned, the country has an extremely rich and venerable martial tradition. The surprisingly small number of preserved fight books in the proper sense of the word contrasts with the presence of an enormous living historical memory with respect to it because of the many shooting and fencing guilds that survive. The oldest uninterruptedly active fencing guild in the world is the Belgian “Gentse Koninklijke en Ridderlijke Sint-Michielsgilde” — Royal and Chivalric Guild of Saint Michael, in Ghent. They practice only modern sport fencing these days, and at a very high level. Then there is the Sint Michiels Gilde in Brughes which took up the practice of the original medieval arts again several years ago. But even for recently founded HEMA groups the presence of such a vast array of historical reference points presents a unique and extremely fertile context.


What has been the most surprising aspect of your role as President?

The ease with which everything goes up to now! The HEMA-community in Belgium is not very big, but it is, like everything else in this country, complex. It comprises schools that go back centuries as well as very recent creations; there are groups at either side of the linguistic border (although at the moment more in Flanders than in the French speaking part of the country); some groups meticulously work according to the sources, while others focus more on a combination of HEMA and living history. Nevertheless, when the initiative of the two longest active HEMA-groups (SwArta and Hallebardiers) came to start a Belgian federation, everybody at once wholeheartedly embraced the project. Also, even though, like in most countries, women are still underrepresented in Belgian HEMA, they are really well received and get opportunities to play a key rôle if they wish. My election as founding president may serve as a humbling example. I will therefore do everything in my power to broaden the way for other women, in my country and abroad, who seek to join this fabulous and empowering HEMA-community!


Bob Brooks - President of the British Federation of Historical Swordplay



How did you first become involved in HEMA?

I began as a sport fencer around 1988 and did quite well in competitions. In 1994 I was studying at Napier University in Edinburgh for my professional journalism qualifications and joined the university fencing club.

It was there that I met Paul Macdonald and Guy Windsor, who instigated the idea of studying historic methods of fencing. This appealed to me greatly, coming from Northumberland which has a very rich and turbulent history of warfare! The group we set up was the Dawn Duellists Society, which I am proud to say was among the first HEMA groups in the UK and which is still going strong today.

In 2003, I started my own school, the Hotspur School of Defence.


How did you become the president, what is the process and how long will you hold office?

I was elected as President of the British Federation for Historical Swordsplay in September 2013, at the BFHS Autumn Exchange - which my school happened to be hosting! I saw myself very much as a 'wild-card' nomination.

Voting is done by the Board of Representatives, in which a nominee from each member group acts on their behalf. I was quite stunned to be told that I had been elected, particularly over the incumbent President Mark Hillyard, who did a superb job of taking the BFHS forward in previous years.

Since the BFHS is a Limited Company, I am now one of three directors on the Board of Executives. This means we have strict legal obligations to run the company in a fit and proper manner.

I'll be in post until September 2016, when the next election takes place.


How does the BFHS operate, when was it formed and what are its goals?

The British Federation for Historical Swordplay is a national, independent umbrella group for the benefit of all individual UK societies involved in the research, study and practice of historical fencing and the European martial arts.

It was officially formed in 1998, making it the second oldest national federation for historical fencing in the world (after FISAS in Italy, formed 1995), and I am proud to have been among the founders. I acted as Secretary until 2004, when life - including a full-time job in journalism and two babies! - finally caught up with me.

While the BFHS is concerned with the specific disciplines belonging to the European martial arts tradition, it also recognises and respects the other sword related disciplines of sport fencing, theatrical stage combat and Eastern martial arts.

Our primary aim is to provide support and advice to all member groups, including the opportunity for insurance. We also have an outreach service for groups interested in joining the BFHS, or those who are thinking of setting up a school or study group.

Every year we host our keynote event, SWASH, at the Royal Armouries in Leeds - arguably the world's finest single collection of arms and armour. This includes a range of workshops with some of the world's best instructors, as well as a chance to handle actual manuals, treatises and weapons held in the collection which are not ordinarily accessible to the public.

We also have the Autumn Exchange, which is hosted by a different member group each year, and again this provides an environment for members to meet, fence and socialise.

The BFHS provides its own Instructor Level Certification, in line with the recognised UK Coaching Certificate, for its member groups, which sets a benchmark for safety and good practice.

I want to make HEMA far more accessible to people. At HSD we have a very high proportion of women students and have just had our first wheelchair user become a full member.

We have a lot of things in the pipeline as we speak, so it should be an interesting few years ahead!


What is it about HEMA in the UK that makes it unique, how do you see things changing in the future?

Growing up in Northumberland, I was surrounded by castles and steeped in history from infancy and I think this is what has driven me - and many others across the UK - to pursue HEMA with real passion.

The HEMA community in the UK is incredibly diverse and in that lies its strength. I also think that its lineage and pedigree is unmatched - we have the likes of Alfred Hutton, Egerton Castle and Sir Richard Burton, who first pioneered research into 'old swordplay' back in the late 19th century.

Inheriting that mantle brings great responsibility and I believe that the UK community will embrace it.

Perhaps the biggest change I see in the future of HEMA - not just in the UK, but across the world - is the emergence of a thoroughly modern, sport-orientated approach. This has happened in virtually every martial art and is not necessarily a bad thing, just a different way to 'play', so to speak. Who knows - we may ultimately see rapier and dagger or longsword at the Olympic Games!

However, I believe that the hardcore traditionalists will remain as ever, and the serious scholarship side of things will continue to develop in tandem.

Above all, getting more people interested in their martial culture is what it's all about and I expect the numbers of students to grow considerably in coming years.


What's the best thing about being the president of the BFHS?

To quote Darth Sidious: "POWER! UNLIMITED POWER!"

No, seriously, it's the people. Hands down. There are so many incredible folks out there who I cross paths with, both nationally and internationally, that it makes my HEMA life an absolute pleasure.

As an old hand, with 20 years of HEMA study under my belt, I particularly love meeting those who have only recently discovered it. Compared to where I started, pre-internet with grainy photocopies of period sources and few people to talk to or train with, they have access to an astonishing amount of resources and networking. Yet when I see the gleam of enthusiasm in their eyes, it takes me back to the beginning of my own HEMA journey - and that's a feeling I can't easily put into words. Magical, perhaps, but even that doesn't do it justice.

I'm most looking forward to adding to the considerable amount of progress made by those before me. We have great things ahead of us, so watch this space!

Meet the Presidents - Part 1 of 2


Four presidents, two continents, one HEMA.

Interviews by Fran Terminiello


Barbara Cheblowska - President of FEDER, Poland



How did you first become involved in HEMA?

My brother Szymon was one of the best reenactment tournament fighters in Poland. I admired his fighting and also wanted to participate but this type of fencing was too difficult for me due to my physique. Szymon found out about Fechtschule Gdansk and I started training HEMA in August 2007.


What was your path to presidency, what is the process and how long will you hold office?

Since 2007 I have trained longsword intensively. When I first started I was the only female in Poland that fought in tournaments, so I was easily recognisable. I joined SMDF, which is the oldest HEMA event in Poland (and the only one at the time). After this I started producing kit for DESWu, and in May 2013 I was chosen as president of FEDER.


How does FEDER operate, when was it formed and what are its goals?

FEDER was created in Feb 2008 . I have been a member since the beginning. Our main goals are promoting and helping HEMA to grow, networking with other fencing associations, ref training, creating fencer ranking and events rules. Every group in Poland can ask FEDER for patronage or financing.


Poland has a reputation for being a strong fighting nation. What is it about HEMA in Poland that makes it unique?

The fighting spirit of Polish fencers is deeply rooted in our history- Poles always had to fight against stronger opponents, and a passion for history brought most of us into HEMA. In the Polish mentality the picture of a strong, honourable fighter - an individualist who never gives up, is strongly rooted. Besides it is a very difficult and expensive sport. If someone went all the way from basic guards through getting expensive kit up to tournament level it means the person if very strong physically and mentally and always gives 100%. We also have excellent instructors who give a lot of time to their students and fight analysis.


What has been the biggest challenge to you as President so far?

It's hard to say because as President you need to give a lot attention to many different things. But I think that the greatest challenges for me and the FEDER management team were participating in the creation of IFHEMA and the unprecedented case of banning of Jan Chodkiewicz from all events organised by the Swedish HEMA Federation. It's still an ongoing case and FEDER is not agreeing with this decision and waiting for the Swedes to reply. I hope that a positive outcome of this case will be the creation of standards that will help to avoid such misunderstandings in future.


Richard Marsden - President of the HEMA Alliance, USA



How did you first become involved in HEMA?

I was a member of the Loyal Order of the Sword run by Greg Hinchcliff from 1994 to about 2008. Greg was a wonderful mentor! We're still in touch and he's happy to see where I've gone.

John Patterson and I formed our own organization which from around 2008 on developed into the Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship. At the High School I teach at we formed the Peoria Historical Fencing Club for the kids. Our organization has been steadily growing and is designed to quickly create competent Historical Martial Artists and leaders.

In 2011 I joined the HEMA Alliance after finding that I liked the idea of a service organization whose purpose was to facilitate the various clubs and schools in the country.

How did you become the president, what is the process and how long will you hold office?

The HEMA Alliance members elect their unpaid and entirely volunteer Governing Council (GC) and President to serve from August to August of a given year. After serving a year as General Secretary under President Mayshar in 2012, and heading the Polish Saber project, I was elected President in 2013.

A President serves for a year, but can be re-elected with term limits currently set at five years. I parade around as a Tyrant, which is a part of the humor of our organization. In my year as President, the GC and our Curriculum Council (CC) under Lee Smith and now 'Tiger' Mike Edelson have accomplished quite a bit. One of my goals as President was to see things accomplished. Great ideas are meaningless, because everyone has great ideas. Making them a reality is what counts- and that has been my focus. We have organized a fund-raiser for Wiktenauer (A HEMA Alliance project under Michael Chidester), we are reorganizing how we track membership, we have increased member-benefits in the form of discounts from both events and vendors, we have created a policy where we can sponsor events, the CC has put forth an instructor certification program and also critiques videos. We have more in the works- especially in the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts of the organization, from insurance to budgeting to organization of material and all things in-between.


How does the HEMA Alliance operate, when was it formed and what are its goals?

The HEMA Alliance was created by 'Papa' Jake Norwood and several others to be a non-profit organization and service provider. The HEMA Alliance's primary purpose is to provide services for its members and affiliates such as discounts and insurance, and to facilitate the community, through things like our Facebook page and forum as well as our sponsoring and promotion of events.

The Alliance is a Big Tent and not a Super-Club. The Alliance wants to support clubs, schools, events and believes its members should be free to study how they wish within the bounds of our bylaws and insurance. We strongly promote researchers, fencers, organizers, teachers and students because that is HEMA as a whole.

The Alliance has a board of directors whom watch over the organization as a whole. They leave the operations in the hands of the yearly elected President and Governing Council. The GC picks a Director of the Curriculum Council, whose task it is to operate separately, but in cooperation with the GC to provide members with resources and services.


What is it about HEMA in the United States that makes it unique?

I'd like to think that it is not unique and that wherever we are in the world, we are all trying to bring to life the arts of the masters who came before us.


What advice would you give to the next president of the HEMA Alliance?

I've already written an extensive guide on that. However, for some quick advice.

1- Be patient and love all of God(Nature/Odin/Mother Gaia/Great Cthhulu Who Dreams/The Emperor of Mankind)'s creatures. The community is small, full of personality, and balancing personalities, without compromising the Alliance and its mission, is a large part of the service.

2- Ideas are worthless. Everyone has ideas. Only getting things done matters. Compliment and support the do-ers of the organization.

3- Do not reach beyond the scope of the Alliance. Do a few things well, improve on the mission, and do not over-create things that need close management. The Alliance is to provide services and interference with the way its members practice should be limited to meeting our legal needs (cash and insurance).

4- Be visible. The community likes to have a face, so they can cheer that person on, or yell at them.

The Virgin/Dominatrix Binary Conundrum of Male Activity Spheres


The views contained in this article are those of the author.

By Kristen Argyle


“Why don’t more women/girls do X?”


I’m not a stranger to participating in activities that are perceived to be male-dominated. HEMA is just about the third or fourth one I’ve taken up in my lifetime, and was certainly not the last. I’d like to say that being a girl has never interfered with my enjoyment of these activities or caused any degree of cognitive dissonance, but that hasn’t been true since that odd day that girls tend to have where we suddenly realize that not only are we girls, but that being a girl means something. Put bluntly, whether a slow realization or a sudden shock from reality, at one point girls have to somehow reconcile that they are different; In a lot of ways, that will probably mean it suddenly dawns on us that we aren’t considered the default for human. Not necessarily non-human, for sure, but this sort of after-thought of, “Oh yeah, some people are female.”


Simplistically, a lot of people imagine this moment as one or two crystallizing moments: a parent sadly revealing to his/her daughter the facts of life and culture and as gently as possible trying to lower her expectations and prepare her for harsh reality, or a girl brushing up against that harsh reality in the form of a unkind nay-sayer telling her exactly what being a girl means and it’s a bleak, limiting existence where only the kindness and protection of others or utter ruthlessness and deceit will save you. Both of those things happen to women for sure, but it’s not as cut-and-dry, nor is it something that happens once and then you’re set for life. If I may try to characterize my experience, it can feel a bit like a daily struggle against a never-ending tide of facepalm. And nowhere else is this tide greatest than that inescapable monolith: the media.


I don’t have to tell HEMA-ists that sometimes the popular portrayal of something is completely, utterly, and even dangerously wrong, wrong, wrong. As much as we can attribute our interest in sword fighting to various media, we still take a mixture of glee, heavy sighs, and outright gnashing of teeth in pointing out misconceptions of weaponry, weapon use, armor, history, culture, and anything else that falls under the wide purview of any combination of “Historical,” “European,” “Martial,” or “Arts.” I love Dungeons and Dragons, but I still get an eye-twitch when I read a two-handed sword as being 20 lbs (9kg). There is a distinct dissonance between the fondness we have for the things that led us to HEMA and the knowledge HEMA brings to us that make those things seem utterly ridiculous.



If that sort of dissonance makes sense to you -- whatever reconciliation you personally have decided on -- then with that in mind recall how women are portrayed when they are engaging in some decidedly non-feminine pursuit. I will humbly identify two archetypes that I sincerely believe you will see whether it’s video games, martial arts, construction, chess, or whatever -- the Virgin and the Dominatrix.

(And yes, those two terms are deeply tied in to sexuality and yes, part of the point is that women tend to be defined by the view of them from outside, in relation to others and not in themselves and for some reason sex is involved. That’s another article. However, please note that I’m not passing judgment on either of these archetypes as “good” or “bad” at the moment. Perhaps just “limited.”)


The Virgin: cute, innocent, clumsy, kind, inexperienced, unskilled. The Virgin’s purpose is to be non-threatening and unintimidating. This isn’t a bad thing -- after all we all come into the world that way.


The Dominatrix: hard, determined, cold, experienced, skilled. The Dominatrix is the ultimate bad girl that does all the things we want to. This, as well, isn’t necessarily bad -- people want to be powerful and in charge.


Here’s the key with these two archetypes: there is little to no room in between. They are supposed to be polar opposites. Yes, you can be a Dominatrix with a soft, squishy heart or a Virgin with a tendency to explode, but you tend to fall roughly into one or the other based on how “badass” you are. If you are immensely skilled and talented, you are pegged as a Dominatrix that likes to win. If you are hilariously unskilled and clumsy, you are pegged as a Virgin that just wants everyone to have fun and get along. 


The Virgin, quite simply, is not supposed to beat you. The Dominatrix is. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about beating or getting beaten by a female because everything is as it should be.


This tends to be what women and girls have to go on when they approach something perceived as male-dominated or male-oriented. These are the two images that stick in our heads as “the way women are when they do these things that aren't for women,” no matter how much we might know better. What if you don’t know any better? Then suddenly two-handed swords just are 20 lbs and people in the Medieval era just bashed at each other with them because all combat was truly a competition of strength and constitution while skill and technique wouldn't be invented in the West until the rapier was introduced. And other quite incorrect things I will not enumerate here. The point is that we tend to go with what imagery we've seen and makes sense to us at the time as our point of reference until we have something better.


What I think this does to women in HEMA, and indeed other things as well, is cut out the lifeblood of doing or learning anything -- the middle part.


We may start any new activity as relative Virgins where it’s safe to be a little clumsy and nervous and unreasonably perky. It’s okay to get beaten by pretty much everyone and it’s okay when you win by a fluke or because someone was going easy. They’re happy, you’re happy, everything is good. I believe that many well-intentioned women start HEMA this way.


But then they have to wonder what the end goal is. And then that Dominatrix in our heads shows up. Ah ha! At the end of all this training and hard work and learning is that woman! And she’ll be me!


Then we find ourselves thinking we can’t possibly be that woman because we’re not good enough, strong enough, dedicated enough, or whatever, or maybe we just don’t want to be that way or don’t care all that much about beating and winning. At that point, why keep going? We’re learning, but it’s always with a caveat. The caveat being, “I will never be that woman.” What’s the purpose of all the work if you’re always going to just be the under-competent klutz because you can’t be the over-competent badass?


This is where I think that otherwise committed individuals quit. Not just women either. They've gone for awhile, gotten to a degree of competency, spent a not-insignificant chunk of money, and then suddenly, poof. Gone. What happened? It’s possible they got to a point where they feel comfortable leaving because they have a level of proficiency they’re proud of and don’t feel like they need anymore. Not everyone who leaves is a victim of something. But perhaps some of those who leave do so because they don’t know what the middle looks like.


We know what starting looks like. We know what the pinnacle looks like. What’s in between? We’re probably aware the montage is a great story-telling device, but a terrible reflection of life. After all, the montage takes maybe 5% of a movie’s time and represents a few weeks or months of work, while for the rest of us it can be a lifetime dedication to achieve such levels of skill. Despite knowing better, the “Montage Model” still remains perniciously hard to get rid of. It robs people of the ability to recognize progress, because it doesn't happen as starkly. It encourages them to make radical changes we can’t possibly maintain all at once, because it’ll only be for a little while and the results will last forever. Finally, it maligns training, sweat, and hard work as means to merely one end, instead of the myriad of rewards we know they are and perhaps even worthy ends themselves.


The middle is where most people will spend most of their time. The Virgin and the Dominatrix are just convenient constructs representing slivers on either end of a spectrum that is mostly “middle” and probably not even one-dimensional. You probably don’t want to be, or frankly can be, either of them when it comes right down to it.


It’s easier to be mediocre or average when you have an idea of what that looks like. We’re familiar with heroes struggling against forces greater than they and breezing through lesser challenges. Heroes are accorded more “middle,” even if they conveniently skip the area between total incompetence and better-than-average. What the Virgin/Dominatrix dichotomy tends to do is limit that middle ground even more for women. It’s more absolute. Being average or better-than-average isn’t good enough for a heroine.


Without these kinds of reference points, it becomes hard to imagine oneself as a developing fighter with some degree of competence and for that to be okay.


Without that visualization, it’s easy to feel like it’s just “not your thing” and give up because you’re not getting better. The truth is, you are getting better. All the time. In ways you might not even be aware of.


And y’know what? It wouldn't matter if you weren't anyway. Most of us will never have to defend our lives with Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, or Early Modern weapons, and that’s a good thing. We study because we want to. Because there’s something about the sword that draws us in. It’s in the process -- the time between the Virgin and the Dominatrix, the montage, the work and sweat, the opportunity to learn the ways of the sword -- that the true satisfaction lies. And that is where you must look for your inspiration.


About the Author -- Kristen Argyle studies and sometimes even teaches HEMA at True Edge Academy and is pursuing Computer Engineering at University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. She spent her childhood searching for toy weapons that wouldn't break and running around the foothills playing pretend. Strangely enough, it turned out to be a plastic Xena: Warrior Princess sword. She's since realized she can't really explain what draws her so inexorably to weapons, but is concerned that people know she holds no fascination with hurting people. The penchant for analytic writing comes from a degree in Philosophy she also has and declines to discuss in detail. She doesn't always play Dungeons and Dragons, but when she does she especially enjoys Fighters.


Fighting back from Injury


By Sarah Cosgrove


Views contained in this post are the author's.


It can take a split second. You’re fine one moment, and the next you’re feeling pain, knowing that something has gone very wrong. It can take weeks, or months - a gradual strain that creeps up on you, and it’s only too late that you realise that you hurt.


Everyone gets injured from time to time.


Now, I’m not saying that this is something you should expect; especially not in HEMA. Martial arts classes are an environment in which there should be a great awareness of safety and control. (There are whole discussions on safety equipment, respect and confidence which I will not delve into here – but do keep in mind that prevention is better than cure! Respect your body and your health, and don’t take chances.)


Rather, I’m going to talk about what happens when you have an injury, and how to overcome it.


I suffered a neck injury just over ten years ago. The short version of the story is: I was in a martial arts class with a toxic environment. I got put in an arm lock in a timed sparring match. I was fighting for the draw; ten seconds to go. The instructor told my opponent (the attitude there was that we were opponents, not sparring partners) to put the lock on harder. He twisted my arm. Damage done.


Over the years of coping with this injury I’ve learned many things, and I’m going to share some of my wisdoms here with you, in the hope that it will help overcome injuries, be they your own, or that of someone you know.


1. It’s not your fault.


I can’t tell you how many times I cursed myself for getting injured. “I should have tapped out.” “I should have left the class before then.” “I should have known better.” It took a long time for me to accept that perhaps I wasn’t entirely responsible for the injury. It doesn’t even have to be something with a specific cause; I’ve known people to blame themselves for repetitive strain injury from computer use!


Absolving yourself of blame is the first step to recovery.


The more you tell yourself that the injury was your fault and avoidable, the more likely you are to fall into subconscious mental traps of feeling like you deserve the injury, or re-running events over and over in your head about what you could have changed.

If it was a friend that got injured, would you tell them it was their fault and they deserved it? Probably not; we are harder on ourselves than others.


2. See your medical professional.


This sounds like it should be an obvious step; but it really isn’t. It took me two years to go to see a doctor and get referred for physiotherapy. I’d lost a significant amount of movement in my arm by then, and couldn’t raise it above my head. Why didn’t I go sooner?

I’d fallen into the “it will get better” trap. In those first few days I knew I’d hurt it; but I’d never been seriously injured before and was convinced it would get better on its own.

The days turned into weeks, into months, into years. I got used to the pain. I got used to not being able to use my arm fully. I’d accepted that it was “too late” to go to the doctor; the damage was done. How wrong I was. The very first physio session I had, I regained the ability to move my arm above my head!

If you get an injury; see your medical professional as soon as possible. If it’s an injury that has built up over time (such as repetitive strain) go as soon as you recognise that you are in pain. This leads us on to:


3. No injury is “too small” or “unworthy”.


“It’s only a [fill in injury here]”. Unless you yourself are a medical professional, it’s likely that you don’t know what you’re talking about. (And I don’t mean that nastily at all – I am so guilty of doing this!) If you are in pain; go and get it looked at. If you have limited movement; go get it looked at. If things are not normal; go get it looked at! Your body is good at telling you when something is wrong. Trust your instincts and get the injury checked out. It is infinitely better to hear that something will get better on its own than to leave something that won’t because you are afraid it will waste the doctor’s time.


4. Always have a recovery plan beyond treatment.


Even once you have finished your course of treatment for the injury, recovery doesn’t stop there. If you haven’t been using muscles, you will be weak. Muscular injuries may want to lock back up; you may “put something out” again. Discuss what you can do to recover with your medical professional. It may be some specific exercises. It may just be general strengthening by doing something like swimming. Have a plan and work it into your routine.


5. Accept it will take time.


You want to get better; but don’t push yourself too fast. A friend of mine had a fall and broke her wrist. Once the bones were on the mend, she was given exercises to do to recover the movement in her wrist. She was so determined to get full use back she did far more than the doctors had advised, which put strain on it and actually set back the recovery. Remember: You will get there, but you aren’t Wolverine. Your body needs time to heal.


6. Overcoming injury


Overcoming an injury isn’t just a physical process. It’s a mental one too. There are days that you will feel like you can never get better, never get back to normal. There are days where you will feel fear or anxiety. Long term injury and pain could even lead to depression.


In HEMA, (or any other physical activities) you should make sure that your instructor and your class are aware of your injury. This is not only so that they know what exercises you may have physical limitations in, but also so that they can support your mental recovery.


One example of this is when my class was doing an unarmed session, and we were looking at throws and locks. This was nearly five years after my injury had occurred; I was still having trouble with it, (I was unaware my vertebrae was sitting in a twisted position; this would not be discovered for another few years until I returned to a physio) but I had my movement, and I had built up some strength.

My training partner was aware of my injury and as we were practising an arm lock, he put the move on slowly and gently.

I panicked.

My heart started racing, my muscles tensed (not the best thing to do in an arm lock) and he had to release me immediately.


Clearly my mind had latched onto the fear that this was going to hurt me again. Few people will probably have an injury so specifically caused by a martial arts move; but that doesn’t mean that the fear won’t be there. If you’ve hurt your arm elsewhere, you may still react when your subconscious perceives that something will put strain on the injury and hurt you further.


There is no fast solution to this; and you have to accept that you may need time to overcome the mental block before you even learn certain movements. Discuss with your instructor and classmates how they can help you to overcome this. It may be something simple like having one of them move your arm around (without putting it in a lock) until you feel comfortable in trusting that you will not be hurt. Accept that this may be something you have to do over several sessions; you’re not going to be over it in one class.


You may feel embarrassed or ashamed for having the injury. You may tell yourself you are using it as an excuse to avoid doing a move you are uncomfortable with. Take a step back and assess these feelings again: neither you nor anyone else should be pushing you into doing something you are not mentally ready for, even if your physical recovery is going well.


Never be afraid to ask for support when you need it. HEMA and other sports and activities should be fun. If you are feeling anxious about going to class because of your injury, always talk to your instructor.


I hope this has helped anyone with an injury to be able to assess where they are and how to take the next steps to recovery.


I would also recommend checking out:


This is a free “game” where you can set yourself quests and gather allies for support. You can track your recovery progress and award yourself and friends achievements for goals reached.


And of course, as an online community, we can support one another; sometimes even just talking about your experiences of injury can move you along the path to recovery. 


Inspirational Fencers: Theresa Wendland


Photograph: AzulOx Photography


Theresa has been practicing HEMA since 2007. She began her HEMA career training with the Chicago Swordplay Guild, then moved to Colorado in 2011 where she trains with the Rocky Mountain Swordplay Guild.


She currently live in Fort Collins, Colorado. Her favorite weapon is the longsword, but her true passion is equestrian combat/rossfechten. She especially enjoys wrestling on horseback. 

Sucking it up – Pain, attitudes and injuries within Historical European Martial Arts


By Julia Ström

Picture models: Julia Yli-Hukka and Julia Ström


The information and views in this post are those of the author.


We are all used to pain; getting hit in the face, in the head, on the hands… The list could go on forever. For most of us its no big deal, some of you have suffered breaks or snapped tendons. Bruises and peeled skin are common. For some it’s even a trigger to make you go faster, harder and more fiercely. I for one get pumped after a good whack, I feel the adrenaline soaring and my attention rocketing.


However there are certain kinds of pain that shouldn't be ignored or glorified. These are the ones that tell you to slow down, to allow your body to rest and recover. In today’s society, not just within the HEMA community, this is becoming less and less “acceptable” with slogans like “shut up and train”, “endure the pain, enjoy the gain” and “if it’s not hurting, it’s not working”. Fair enough, a certain amount of pain from exercise is to be expected, especially in high-contact, high speed sports like HEMA. Also, fun fact: women have, on average, a higher pain threshold, and according to many studies, a higher endurance level for pain.


When you feel continuous ongoing pain, which can be a stabbing, a dull or a coming-and-going intermittent pain, its time to pay attention to your body. In this article I will reflect upon some common points of injury. I'm not claiming these are exclusive to women, far from it, but this is an attempt to reflect on the injuries brought up in discussion in the Esfinges forum, and things I feel are important.


As many of you expressed, fencing does tend to exacerbate pre-existing injuries, which goes for most high intensity sports. I would however like to point out that there are some physical differences when it comes to biomechanics that make women more susceptible to certain types of injuries.

These include:


● Lower percentage of lean body mass, i.e. less muscle per kilogram of bodyweight.

● Larger range of motion in joints.

● No compensation of increased range of motion in the form of stronger/more extensive ligaments.


Women’s muscles are not weaker per kg of muscle. There is no statistical difference in strength per cross section area of muscle in male and female athletes, but the fact that we on average have smaller and leaner muscles means that we exert less power (1). But if viewed as strength exertion in relation to cross section area of muscle, there is no statistical difference!


If we take a look at the real life situation we see that this means women have approximately 40-60% less upper body strength and 25-20% less lower body strength than men. This difference persists even when we correct for body mass, although it is then reduced to a 5-15% weakness, women compared to men (1).


The results of these differences are visible in other sports, most notably for example within soccer where the amount of knee injuries is significantly higher for women compared to men, to the point where the female gender is considered to be a risk factor for anterior cruciate ligament injuries (2).


The upper extremity is up first as it is an excellent example of ligaments and muscles working together to stabilize some very unstable joints that are put through a lot of stress, particularly in sports like HEMA. The only bony connection between the arm and the thorax  is the collarbone, anchoring it to the front of your ribcage. All other attachments, including the shoulder blade, are only held in place by ligaments and muscles. They are part of a chain that starts at your sternum and ends to your fingertips. As has been pointed out, we tend to have larger “forward” than “backward” muscles in the upper extremity and thorax. This is due to the fact that we exert a lot of force delivering our blows, but the strain is considerably less when it comes to retracting after having delivered a blow. This in itself builds up a certain imbalance in muscle development, an unevenness in our bodies that increases the tendency to develop strain related pain and injuries.


The shoulder has an extremely shallow socket, and depending on the plane of motion you can move your arm up to 180°, as seen from the shoulder. I won’t go into details, but much of the force of our arm is facilitated by surrounding muscles in the region of the shoulder, neck and upper back.


Something that is of particular interest is the so called “rotator cuff”, which is a set of four muscles that along with ligaments of the shoulder joint serve as the primary stabilizer of that joint itself (3). These four muscles are all relatively small, and can be strained or suffer inflammation as a result of repetitive stress (4). This is where swords come in. Swordfighting involves repetitive motion with high speed and high force, even for those of you using lighter weapon types. Not unsurprisingly your rotator cuff is at risk, and when the rotator cuff suffers injury or strain it starts to “fail”, the body starts incorporating other muscle groups that are primarily used to exert force, in order to stabilize the joint and your motion. This results in tension which can be a large component of shoulder, back and neck pain.


Inflammation requires a decreased intensity of training, and use of analgesics for a limited amount of time is usually a good idea. In order to prevent recurrence, however, it is a good idea to train the muscles in your rotator cuff, and surrounding areas. It is partly to increase strength, but also to give yourself a buffer to handle higher levels of stress.


Muscular resistance training exercise to train the rotator cuff, movement outward from body

Muscular resistance training exercise to train the rotator cuff, movement toward body



As for the elbow joint, it consists of three different joints that work together in flexion and rotation (5). There are two shallow sockets of the ulna and the radius in the lower arm, working with the large joint head of the humerus in the upper arm and with each other. This complex elbow joint is more stable than that of the shoulder, however over-extension and over-rotation are problematic here, as these motions are primarily controlled by the tensile strength of ligaments, and to a certain degree a bony prominence known as the olecranon (aka the point of your elbow). In addition to this, it is one of the joints that women on average have a larger range of motion in compared to men.  Large forces working across the elbow can weaken the ligament, which means that  your body has to rely more on muscles for control and stability. It is worth noting that many strains originating from the wrist will also project result in pain towards the elbow, this is due to the fact that many of these muscles stabilising the wrist have attachments near the elbow joint.  "Golfer's elbow" and "tennis elbow" are examples of this.

Illustration of overextension in the elbow while delivering force



Apart from the dull prospect of rest and analgesics when strain injuries occur, an important component here is to train your body control in order to prevent hyper-extension or over-rotation. Boxing classes are good for this, as they tend to lay a lot of focus on controlling your blows, and the motions are very much the same as the ones used in HEMA. And again, buff up!


The wrists are yet another joint where women tend to have a larger range of motion, and where the difference in strength can play an important role when it comes to injury tendencies. It is also here, and in the fingers, that the raw force of a blow is projected, which places enormous demands on the muscles, and the ligaments, of the wrist. Here it is primarily flexors and extensors of the wrist that come into play, but also muscles involved with the aforementioned rotation of the lower arm. In this area it is really all about muscular resistance training to increase your strength, as this is what will give you the ability to better handle the repetitive stress that you subject your hands to.


As for fingers... Skin abrasions and the likes are, as most of you say, a matter of gear and getting used to it. When it comes to finger breaks, again gear is helpful, but if you want to be safe, execute your techniques better and cover those hands!


I will briefly discuss the matter of the neck and back. As I mentioned before a lot of pain that is felt in the neck and upper back can be a symptom of problems elsewhere, but may also be attributed to actual problems in this region. When executing techniques properly you incorporate use of your entire body in delivering force, much of which is projected from your “central body” via the axial skeleton(6). This places huge demands on your back and core muscles, because these are responsible for maintaining a stable base from which your arms and legs can do their thing. Worth mentioning is that many of us lead typical modern lifestyles with relatively little everyday activity; and we spend a lot of time sitting down, often in less than optimal positions. In addition to this, we put different strains on the different halves of our body according to weapon type and “handedness”, which projects throughout the body. This gives us an uneven and often somewhat sub-par base to work from, which may result in multiple types of injuries and pain.

Illustration of posture with poor muscles strength and core incorporation in comparison to a more functional pose, side view

Illustration of posture with poor muscles strength and core incorporation in comparison to a more functional pose, note height difference, back view



My suggestion is that you do what is necessary, not only treating the pain with analgesics, rest, massage etc. but that you also start working to give yourself better core and back muscle strength and control. Muscular resistance training to build up back muscle, and particularly muscles of your “weak” side can help. Combine this with focused functional core training and you’ll give yourself a head start, not only when it comes to avoiding pain and injury, but also to delivering more powerful techniques.

Illustration of performing a plank, and common mistakes made when core musculature is not incorporated fully in the exercise

Application of core training in a fencing oriented exercise, sitting on ball without floor contact while performing drills



The lower extremity is in its simplest form a blueprint for the upper extremity, with some “slight differences”, like knee caps for example. Few of you mentioned problems with your hips in forum discussions, although hips may give issues further down in the leg, or act as indicators for problems lower down.


Moving on to the knee, which many of you did mention. Much like the elbow it is a complex joint and a common site of injury in many sports. The knee consists of three bone components and a multitude of ligaments, tendons and other bits and pieces. The thigh bone (femur) of the upper leg joints connects to the shin-bone of the lower leg, but has no contact whatsoever with the calf bone. Last is the knee cap, or patella, which is highly important for optimizing force output from the muscles on the front of the leg. The patella is known as a sesamoid bone and is embedded in the ligament of the quadriceps muscles. The knee joint is fairly flat, but has a multitude of ligaments, collateral and cruciform, that work to stabilize it, this also means that there are multiple points for injury and strain. When flexing or extending the knee while pointing the foot in the direction of the knee, without rotating the foot sideways, the knee joint is fairly stable and can handle quite a lot of force: as all of the ligaments and tendons are when strained under optimal conditions. However, this is rarely the case in fencing where low stances and quick lunges are an integral part of the footwork. This means additional strain at “odd” angles where our ligaments are not optimized to work. The collateral ligaments act to protect the knee from “folding sideways” and the cruciform ligaments work to hinder the joint from gliding backwards-forwards in its own plane of motion. Our knee ligaments are particularly at risk when it comes to fencing footwork with a bent knee in a forward position, especially if the knee is in front of the foot, or if the knee deviates from a straight line between the foot and hip. Immediate treatment for when the damage to the ligaments is already done is again analgesics and lowered intensity level training. However, for recovery, practising control and "buffing up" is once again the recommended concept.


To strengthen ligaments takes time, but by building additional strength of the muscles surrounding your knee and practicing control you can lower the risk of re-injury as well as and potentially increase the efficacy of your footwork. By having stronger muscles you can provide greater stability and relieve some of the stress you put on the joint at the more difficult sub-optimal angles, and thus a lowered risk of injuring ligaments. Practicing control under pressure of weight or strain in controlled conditions will also better prepare you for handling them “live”.


Moving on to the ankles and feet, which were not the biggest groups of affected areas, seem less often affected by pain, but are none the less worth discussing. The feet are very much essential to how we perform, as they are what anchors us to the ground and allow us to propel ourselves forward. The simple act of walking puts a fairly large strain on the foot, a force of approximately 1000 N per foot per step (7). Factor in that we lunge at odd angles and with little time for calculation. A common problem associated with this type of footwork is over-stretching of the ligaments that surround the ankle joint, the ligaments that hold the two bones of the lower leg together, or  the ligaments that maintain the arch of your foot. I will quickly discuss the latter of these groups. These ligaments in the sole of the foot are known as the plantar fascia and along with the structure of the bones in the feet help maintain a transverse and a longitudinal arch. This arch is very important, as it allows for shock absorption and facilitates the normal use of the muscles in the lower leg during simple tasks such as walking. If the arch is damaged or stretched, pain in the lower leg can result in something similar to MTSS (8). This can also be a problem for those who practice on very hard ground. In order to prevent these problems, you need to train the muscles and control of your feet. There are various methods, but they include things as simple as rolling a tennis ball around on the floor using your toes. Also, make sure your footwear is not overly worn, is of good quality and a good fit (9).

Over-stretching of the outer ligaments of the ankle while stretching the inner leg, not placing the sole of your foot on the ground reduces this issue.

Overstretching of the ankle while stretching the front of the leg, a grip around the ankle or below it removes this risk.


Most of us will have experienced sprains, and this is where I suggest some caution. Their seriousness is often underestimated. First of all, there is a type of “higher level” sprain whereby ligaments that hold the two bones of the lower leg can be stretched or torn. These are relatively unusual but tend to occur in combination with breaks. Moving on to the the big bad boy of the ankle sprains we have is the so-called “inversion sprain”, whereby the ligaments on the “outside” of the foot are stretched or ruptured, often after quick, not completely controlled, forward or sideways footwork in a forward or sideways motion. It is important not to take this type of injury too lightly, as it has an up to 60% recurrence, and tends to worsen at every new sprain (10). Initial elevation is essential to reduce swelling. In the long-term it is important to build up new control and strength in the ligaments, which even for simple sprains can take weeks or months to achieve. As for building back up to good footwork simple things like standing on one foot while brushing your teeth, or practising skipping rope can be very helpful (10). If you want to try and avoid it happening I recommend the same exercises to avoid such an injury in the first place, as well as sideways step ups and controlled foot work drills where focus is on your feet and not on the weapon.

Uneven weight distribution and deviation of the right leg while squatting, not uncommon for fencers. Problem reduced with additional awereness and correction of knee position and weight distribution

Over/hyper-extension of the knee while standing, places unnecessary strain on the ligaments, reduces balance and affects posture


Of course there is also the risk of stress-fractures in the bones of the feet and compression of nerves which will give rise to pain (11). You need to be attentive and seek a medical professional if the pain does not resolve quickly and has no obvious cause.


Ideally we would try to implement "preventative physiotherapy" within HEMA, where we build up good muscular strength and control to keep ourselves from getting injured in the first place. There are many things to be aware of when it comes to injuries, but most important of all is to pay attention to your own body. Remember: if you push yourself beyond repair, you won’t be there to hit your friends in the face.




(1) Physiology of sports and exercise. Chapter 19, Sex differences in sports and exercise. Kenney. Wilmore. Costill. Human Kinetics, by Courier Companies Inc USA, 2012.

(2) Acta Orthop Belg. 2013 Oct;79(5):541-6. The incidence of knee and anterior cruciate ligament injuries over one decade in the Belgian Soccer League. Quisquater L, Bollars P, Vanlommel L, Claes S, Corten K, Bellemans J.

(3) Human movement. Chapter 10: p.156-7. Everett, Kell. Churchill Livingstone, by Elsevier Ltd, China, 2010.

(4)The infraspinatus muscle, supraspinatus muscle, teres minor muscle and the subscapularis muscle make up the rotator cuff.

(5) In the arm known as supination and pronation, a rotation of the ulna and radius in relation to the humerus.

(6) The axial skeleton projects from you pelvis to the skull and a central component is the spinal column.

(7) Biomechanics of Running and Walking. Tongen & Wonderlich. Available as online paper from

(8) MTSS stands for Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome, and refers to a condition where you suffer diffuse pain in the region of the tibia in the lower leg, which has multiple causes.

(9) Physical Rehabilitation of the Injured Athlete, 4th edition. Chapter 26: p581. Andrews, Harrelson, Wilk. Saunders, by Elsevier Ltd, China, 2012.

(10) Physical Rehabilitation of the Injured Athlete, 4th edition. Chapter 20: p440-442. Andrews, Harrelson, Wilk. Saunders, by Elsevier Ltd, China, 2012.

(11) Physical Rehabilitation of the Injured Athlete, 4th edition. Chapter 20: p457-459. Andrews, Harrelson, Wilk. Saunders, by Elsevier Ltd, China, 2012.

Herczegh Mihály, The Genesis and Reduction of the Duel - Part one. 1903. - Translation by Krisztina Nagy




When thinking about creating competitive environment, it should be advised to see romantic legends of old heroes and historical badassery in a realistic light. This might be possible through listening to the suggestions of experts whose everyday life contained inevitable armed affairs, and who wanted to invite threatening armed combat to a safe ground, to get rid of the harmful social factors and still keep practicing the noble exercise. This is a very different angle from the modern practitioner's occasional desire to relive those threats through specifically designed fencing matches.


In order to separate the components of duel combat, to understand their relevance in evaluating fencing performance or the ways safety and different regulations alter the manifestation of fencing theory, it is a great help to include the experiences of contemporary authors in our judgements and preference.


The first part of Herczegh's treatise discusses the legal and moral reality of dueling in the XIXth century, and might be a valuable addition to the background of fencing history.


Caricature in Bolond Istók, 1880. november 21. Source: Kolozsvári Egyetemi Könyvtár (University Library Kolozsvár)








Translated by Krisztina Nagy, Budapest, 2014.




Click HERE for the full text.


Inspirational Fencers: Nina Trollvige, Sweden


Original photograph: Sari Scheinberg


Nina has practised Historical European Martial Arts since 2009 with the GHFS, living in the countryside just outside of Gothenburg, Sweden. Her favourite weapon is Longsword.


Women's Tournaments: Meaningful Challenges

The views expressed in this article are those of the author.


By Eliisa Keskinen.


As long as I have been involved in competitive HEMA, the discussion on whether there is a need or if it is even ethical to hold women's tournaments has continued. I wish to bring up some of the practical reasons to have women's tournaments, both for women's sake and for HEMA's popularity's sake. I am aware that some people have ideological objections, but I will not discuss them here. I will also approach tournaments as an integral part of HEMA, and so will not directly discuss the more general reasons for or against tournaments.


It is often said that this is a martial art, and you should be able to fight anyone. However, tournaments are by nature an artificial game, not a fight, and that the best way to learn to fight anyone is not necessarily to fight everyone. If one sees tournaments as training, as many do, it is important that this training offers meaningful challenges and a sense of progress. Others want to compete for competition’s sake, or view it as a test of their martial ability.


The common thread between all these reasons for participating in tournaments is that they are supposed to achieve something greater than simply participating in a tournament, and it is neither good training, nor a good test, nor very rewarding, to participate in tournaments where you are by nature disadvantaged to the point that your chances of winning the toughest fights are virtually none. Why is this? Because it does not take skill to get mediocre results year after year, nor does it test anything: what is the meaning of a test you're unlikely to improve on? You do get a bunch of fights, but it is very difficult to get a good sense of progress, especially after a certain point. It does take some amount of courage to risk injury, but at the same time since one is going in as an underdog, there is no risk of losing face.


If a large segment of potential fencers, in fact over half of the earth's population, lack a meaningful competitive environment, many of these people will be lost to HEMA. One only needs to look around at an average HEMA event to see that this is probably already happening, and has been going on for years. This is also not the case in similar activities with established women's series, such as sport fencing.


You can see the effect of this in the tournament scene: the Swordfish 2012 women's tournament probably had more female participants than any other modern HEMA tournament has had. If there was no social call for women's tournaments, this would be not the case. Of course it takes time for this to take effect: the Swordfish 2009 ladies' tournament had a mere five participants, but those brave pioneers paved the way for the rest.



There is also a need for role models for female beginners, non-competing practitioners who are still interested in tournament results and young people who might not practice HEMA but are fascinated by the world of historical swordplay. It does make a difference that female role models exist, and for that purpose it is good to have female champions. Imagine if someone asks, for example, who is the most successful female HEMA fencer in the world? Without women's tournaments, the answer is likely to be someone who did well in an open tournament, but did not win. Which is more inspiring: that, or female champions in large, international female competitions?


A beginner's tournament in no way replaces a woman's tournament: it does not create role models, and while it does offer the possibility of progress, there is no point for someone to compete in a beginner's tournament year after year if she is no longer a beginner, but at the same time winning the open competition remains an unrealistic prospect. Frankly, I find the concept that women's competitive HEMA should revolve around beginner's tournaments offensive, as it defines women in HEMA as second class practitioners.


So why are women disadvantaged in open competition? Let us look at some facts about differences in physical prowess between men and women. For strength, Olympic Weightlifting provides a good example: in the 69kg weight class, the world record for snatch for men is 165kg, while for women it is 128kg. This is a 22% difference!


If we compare world records in two speed-based sports, the 100m sprint and 50m freestyle swimming the difference is smaller, but still there: In 100m sprint, men's and women's world records are 9.58s and 10.49s respectively, and in 50m freestyle 20.91s and 2.,73s. This is a difference of 8.7% and 11.9%, in two sports where having a greater mass is not an advantage in itself.


In swordplay one needs both strength and speed (which has been written down at least as far as the 15th century!), and even at the highest levels of training women have a natural disadvantage in both. It is possible for individuals to be stronger and faster than individual men, of course, but the higher the bar of the open competition is raised, the less likely it is that a woman can physically challenge the top men in a tournament. As mentioned before, the opportunity to win tournaments is valuable in itself, and merely the opportunity to take part and get mid-level results cannot replace this. This is true not only for women as individuals, but also for the sake of having a strong female presence in competitive HEMA, and by extension all of HEMA.


Now, obviously women can and have won open tournaments, but the differences in statistical physical ability do make it more and more unlikely at higher levels. People say you can compensate with skill; but skill training is equally available to everyone so it cannot be used to bridge that gap. However, the trend that a women's tournament can get more women to participate in competitive HEMA, and thus give them the experience and skill benefits of actively fighting in tournaments, actually makes it more likely that a woman will win a prestigious open tournament. I'd say this means that regardless if women can compete at the highest levels of open tournaments, at this point in time women's tournaments are a positive force.



The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Esfinges.


By Anna Stępień


So I was asked to write an entry for the Esfinges blog, since apparently “there is too little known about the HEMA scene in central Europe.” Although I might provoke the anger of my brothers and sisters, let me dismount my unicorn, pour myself a nice glass of fern flower tincture, and tell you a little about the mythical creatures – the Poles.


Polish HEMA people can be divided into two categories. If you were lucky enough to meet one of us during some event, you have most probably met the representatives of this particular category. We usually call them Witchers (I hope most of you at least played The Witcher, and maybe some of you actually read Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels). Their main goal is to master techniques which require roundhouse kicks, flying kicks, or quadruple somersaults, even if such things were never mentioned in any treatise (Treatise? Never heard of such a thing. / I was raised by wolves. I was too busy hunting to survive, didn’t have the time to even learn how to read.). They can use their swords as spears and toss them at their enemies. They never lose, they are just kind enough to let you win. They don’t like using bucklers or shields, because a true badass is able to take a hit, if ever, to the head or chest like a boss. They are also not very fond of pole arms – being too far away from the enemy makes it impossible to bite through their arteries.



Typical Witcher attacks the enemies even if they are asleep


They dream of time machines that could take them back to the Middle Ages (poor things don’t know they would’ve probably ended up as peasants growing turnips). Some dream of a zombie apocalypse, when they could cut through zombie hordes like mowers.

Witchers simply love tournaments! Some of them never take their gambesons off and sleep in their fencing masks. The most hard core ones, however, do not participate in tournaments, because they don’t like the requirement to use protective gear (If the folks from the treatises did not use them, why should I?).

They claim to be able to cut anything with anything and if they don’t, it’s because the weapon was not sharp enough or the target was not right.


But let’s leave those uncouth brutes aside and make place for the ever elusive… Well, they are so mysterious that they don’t even have a collective name. Let me call them the Spirited. They live in mud huts in the desert (did you know we have deserts in Poland?), sleep on beds of nails, and feed off solar energy.



A Spirited in an unusual situation – preparing for a sparring, but never forgetting to pray to the gods beforehand.


The Spirited know every treatise by heart and would recite them even if you woke them in the middle of the night. They treat their weapons as parts of their bodies and claim to be able to grow them from their limbs. Even though they seem to live an ascetic life they know how to use Facebook and constantly post their deep thoughts there. For them HEMA is the centre of their lives – it is a tool which helps them find God/meaning of life/link with the nature/their sanity. Those know-alls drop their enlightened ideas on the Polish HEMA community like bombs. Once they decided it would’ve been a marvellous idea to introduce katas to HEMA and there was absolutely no way to reason with them. Some other time, our dear Spirited came up with a new idea for a tournament in which contestants would be awarded points for executing choreographed patterns (damned katas strike again). So don’t be surprised if you hear there is Dancing with the Swords going on in Poland.

They too dream of time machines which would allow them to meet their masters, but they would prefer golden thrones and a gazillion of faithful devotees.

The Spirited are not very fond of tournaments. They claim they distort the technique and move the entire community away from the true meaning of HEMA, whatever that could be. The truth is, however, that they always get their arses kicked and can’t deal with that.

Though you would never see them cut anything with a sharp weapon, they upload videos of weird people cutting weird targets with weird weapons on Facebook.


Are we really that different? I think Poland is not the only place of such a tug of war between the supporters of HEMA as a combat sport and HEMA as martial arts. It takes place on numerous forums, social networks, and disputes during HEMA events all over the world. You read or hear many arguments for one option or the other. Some say that tournaments are the only (legal) way to test our skills and techniques described by Medieval and Renaissance masters. But we all know that the number of techniques used by tournaments participants is limited and there are other issues – like physical and mental preparation, strategy, speed, stamina, etc. – that matter equally, and if you want to be a good fighter, reading and reproducing techniques found in treatises is not enough. And let’s not kid ourselves, a good part of contestants are more focused on winning rather than fighting according to treatises. It is true that by doing so we make it impossible to be able to use complex techniques and moves, and end up drawing only an ounce of the art. It is also undeniable that if we focus on running up the hills, doing almost nothing but sparring, and not devoting our time to read at least one treatise, we cannot say we reproduce HEMA.


So what appears from all the above? Who is right – the Witchers or the Spirited? I can’t give you a straight answer for there is none. It is for each of you to decide. Whatever floats your sword, mate. The key is to be happy and proud of what you’re doing and not to be too serious about HEMA, even if you are a lucky bastard and earn your living as a HEMA coach/fighter, and I hate you for that.


Women fighters from history: Bona Lombarda


By Fran Terminiello


We all enjoy stirring stories of derring-do, and accounts of women warriors who defy our expectations of the past are always interesting. A personal favourite is Bona Lombarda, a former peasant girl, who would distinguish herself as a decorated soldier and condottiere. Unfortunately no good account of her life exists in English, so I put together the following a number years ago, and thought I may as well share now.



Perhaps stories of her deeds have been embellished through the years, but the key facts do not appear disputed. She is honoured by a memorial plaque near the house where she was born, in a small sub-alpine Italian village. It reads:


"Bona Lombarda, whom the histories unanimously pay homage to and praise, was born in 1417 among the group of humble farmhouses that still stand here. Virtuous and beautiful, she drove a flock through these woods, until at the request of viscount captain Pietro Brunoro she immediately followed him as faithful wife, unmovable at every event of their noble enterprise. She defied great perils, defended and saved her husband, secured victories and honours. Admired by all, returning as a veteran from the Turkic conflicts of Negroponte, she died in Methoni in 1468. Another example that even in poor hovels and under crude raiments at times are hidden magnanimous spirits capable of arduous and most noble undertakings."



The only other thing worth noting about the village are contemporary frescoes of a 'wild man' uncovered in a notary's villa.



Pietro Brunoro was an infantry captain, a condottiere in the pay of the Duchy of Milan, the bastard son of a nobleman, and fresh from a crushing victory over the Venetians at the battle of Delebio in November 1432 in which over five thousand Venetians died. On a hunting trip, in the afterglow of victory, he saw a pretty peasant girl herding a flock of sheep “small and brown but otherwise not without beauty”. By some accounts she was abducted, “taken away against her will”, by others there was a seduction. Bona Lombarda was only fifteen at the time, we don't have a birth date for Pietro Bruno but from the fact he was six years into a forty-two year military career we can surmise he was in his early twenties.


Despite their unorthodox courtship Bona and Pietro became constant companions: “…the woman followed him everywhere, dressing as a soldier and always fighting at his side with a bow.” They campaigned together for eleven glorious years, including one occasion where (Brunoro having changed employers) Bona had the honour of personally parading a captured Milanese standard through Venice. Then disaster struck: Brunoro was imprisoned on charges of treachery by King Alfonso of Naples shortly after joining his employ. Brunoro languished in prison for ten long years. During this time Bona tirelessly petitioned “captains, magistrates and princes whom Brunoro had previously served” obtaining amongst others letters of support from the Grand Duke of Burgundy and the King of France, until Alfonso had no choice but to release Brunoro. Shortly after, they married (or remarried, having previously married in secret in some versions of the tale) and Bona bore him two sons and a daughter. “And with the passing of the years he showed an ever greater deference towards her, asking her advice in every important matter.”



Many more glorious episodes followed, such was their stock Brunoro commanded an astronomical salary of 20,000 ducati from the Venetians. Bona's most celebrated moment was during the siege of Castello di Pavone (which still stands, now serving as a luxury hotel). The castle had fallen to the enemy Milanese with Brunoro inside it prisoner, his forces scattered. A century later the German historian Johannes Guler Von Weineck described events as follows: “When Castello di Pavone fell, the astuteness and bravery of Bona loomed large, amazing everyone; in fact, after armouring herself head to foot, a shield on her arm and a sword in her hand, she demonstrated great courage during the assault. She was the reason the fortress was retaken and she was the first to place her foot inside.”


And by another account: “She rallied the routed remnants of the troops: she guided them, she encouraged them more by her example than with her voice: she launched herself once more against the Milanese and they fled. She recovered the lost fortress and freed her dear husband.”


Bona won further acclaim when she won the palm as best warrior at the games held in Venice in 1457 to celebrate the inauguration of Doge Pasquale Malipiero, the 66th Doge of Venice, having captured the wooden fortress “defended in vain by able captains and soldiers” – no mean achievement for a “small and brown” former shepherdess who was forty years old at the time. After more than forty years a soldier, Brunoro eventually met his end in battle, having campaigned for eight years against the Turks at Negroponte, in the crumbling fragments of Venice’s empire. But not before presiding over several notable and precious victories, Bona died two years later of fever on the Greek island of Methoni, awaiting a return to Venice.


Inspirational Fencers: Krisztina Nagy, Hungary.


Original Photograph: Claudia Krause


Krisztina lives in Budapest, Hungary, and has been active in Historical European Martial Arts since 2005, as a longsword and later sabre fencer, studying the history, theories and methodology of fencing coaching. "Fencing is two-faced... Physical challenges give you pieces of a great puzzle, but to assemble the whole picture, is an individual process of maturing - something that appears not by will, through struggle, but naturally, with time and introspection. It is not weakness to withdraw and reflect at times, but often the key to the next success.


Historical European Martial Arts in the SCA

The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Esfinges.


By Nazirah Jetha Garrison


"What is the SCA?", those of you in the HEMA community might ask, "Do they make it all up or do they actually study the sources?", "Why do they dress up?". Here I would like to give an insight into just how historical the SCA can be. Far from being a game of dress-up or plain reenactment, we take our research seriously and apply the treatises in our swordplay.


Well, first and foremost, the SCA is a not-for-profit educational organization.   The very core of its being is education of its members, and education of its non-members if they ask.  We make things, we research things, and the things we make, we try to research how it would have been done in its time period, and try to recreate that. We do demos at libraries, parks, private events, churches.  We're not "reneactors" though, more sort of re-creationists of the middle ages, but with modern medicine and plumbing. ;) 





HEMA, in particular, rapier fighting, has been a part of the SCA since the late 1970s/early 1980s.  I'll be honest: back in the 80s, there was a lot of what is now termed "basic SCA style fencing"; it didn't pay heed to the sources, and boiled down to winning at all costs.  Form and style didn't matter; only winning and fighting like the actors they saw in movies.  But, a large number of us decided to apply the same "research, recreate, and make as accurate as possible" principles that others in the SCA had to food, or to costuming, to HEMA.   In particular, to rapier fighting.  



To start with, let's consider a typical rapier practice. We'll take it as given that the preliminaries have been done.  First, we warm up; some lunges, some sword drills, either stabbing at a pell, or going through some basic sword "katas", more chitchat while we warm up, etc etc.  Then, we might engage in some free sparring with weapon combinations of our choice.  This Sunday, it was sword and dagger.  So, I went out into the fighting space, and faced my opponent.  Found his weakness and stabbed him.  And again.  Possibly even a third time. At this point, our teacher called "hold" (basically, "stop!! I'm coming over!"), went over to my opponent and told me to come back into my guard.  I did so.  


What happened next was essentially a full on discussion regarding the geometry of lines and planes applied to a woman holding a rapier in one hand and a dagger in the other, both pointed straight at you.  He talked about how the medieval masters would suggest that my opponent try to find the weak line.  That as my stance was a rather aggressive stance, straight out of Giganti or Capo Ferro, with head back, rapier held on point, but not extended, and dagger forward, that my opponent could not gain mechanical advantage over my rapier; in Giganti's terms, he couldn't gain my blade.  My teacher then went on to ask how could my opponent gain an advantage over me?  This ended up in a discussion of how Capo Ferro and Giganti defined tempo, measure and gaining the blade.  How, both authors said that to win, one had to control at least one of the three, and what my opponent could do when faced with me in this stance.  We then sparred, putting these principles into practice.


Then we had a water break, and I picked up my copy of Venetian Rapier that I've been working through.  I was having an issue with one of the early plates regarding the timing and and ultimate hand positioning of the cavazionne, and how to attack using the tempo given to you when your opponent did a cavazionne based on your control of his blade.  The teacher and I discussed it, and he set me in the right direction.  This led to a discussion of blade mechanics, parity of the blade, mechanical leverage, and Giganti's  use of feints.  


Fully rested and watered, we picked back up, but with sword and buckler this time, and a discussion of Bolognese sword and buckler techniques; how the various guards illustrated in the manuals worked, and what they were good for. Then we sparred, using those techniques.  






When I get out onto the field, I'm not thinking about overwhelming my opponent with brute force, I'm thinking about his/her guard, where the weak spots are, how I can exploit what my opponent's given me.  I think this scenario, which happens on a nigh-weekly basis, sums it up -- my other teacher, Kristyn, and I face off regularly against each other. Given that we're both short-ish women, with very similar personalities, we'd both take similar guards, and we generally stand there for a while, in guard, facing each other, figuring out what to do.  Well, I figure out what to do, I think Kristyn stands there and waits for me to make a mistake she can exploit! This tends to be the conversation on the sidelines:


"Um… What are they doing??"


"But… They're not *doing* anything?  Just twitching every now and then, and sometimes one of them moves their head or adjusts footing???"

"Wait for it…."


By this point we've generally sized each other up, and what follows is a usually a set of techniques from Capo ferro or Giganti, and results in one of us stabbing the other in the head.  Or, binding each other up and having to resort to grappling (at which point we both back off).


Other weeks, the guided discussion and practice may focus around a plate out of Capo Ferro or Giganti, or Fabris (right now, we're working our way through Capo Ferro with some Giganti thrown in for good measure), but no matter what, practice happens with the medieval/renaissance masters and their salles providing the backdrop.





That's how we practice HEMA in the SCA, as a scholarly art, based off the historical manuals.  We do also endeavor to put HEMA into its cultural context, which is where the clothing comes in.   I mean, no one disses a kendo practitioner for wearing what they wear, right?  Even if it is based on what they wore in Japan in the late Edo-period.  Yes, we fight with a sword and cloak, or a cloak and dagger (there are sections in the historical manuals devoted to it, so why wouldn't we?) and the clothing comes into the fight.  If I fight in a skirt, an opponent can't see my footwork and has trouble figuring out whether I'm refused or on guard.  If my opponent's blade gets caught in a fold of cloth, I can use that tempo to gain an advantage; just as would have happened historically.  In some respects, the clothes help put HEMA into a wider context and culture and enable a fuller study.  On the flip side, in the SCA we operate under stringent safety guidelines which means we can't put all aspects of HEMA into practice;  I'm not saying that either way is better, just that it offers a complementary view, and we have a heck of a lot to learn from each other.


The creation of a special HEMA event


By Susanne Popp (also known as Susine Pomeranz), INDES Salzburg


I feel so blessed to train at INDES Salzburg in many ways. We are a friendly, big team with crazy ideas and lots of love to share. But I especially like it here because of the large amount of female fencers who show a lot of motivation and eagerly come to training . For a while though I had the feeling that we need a certain push towards a little more self confidence and getting ourselves active . It turned out that it only needed a very gentle push. As soon as the idea of our own event for women was shared, I received great approval and support and many ideas as to how to shape it. So all of these points became part of our program:



Sharing goals: If people in a group know what others want and need, it is easier to give each other support. So we all thought and talked about competing in tournaments, becoming a referee, joining the INDES high performance team or about wanting to become more fit.


Strengthening our core: Strong and healthy movements come from your centre. Via Pilates we especially trained our core muscles. How to train efficiently: A method of doing dynamic drills full of variations was showed to us by one of our girls who thought about how to optimise your training method. It gave us an idea as to how we can think of our own drills and practice them together.


Video Analysis: During sparring we filmed each other and afterwards watched the film sequences together with Ingulf, our head trainer, who was able to give us advice. That wasn't easy for everyone, because he was very honest, but definitely helpful.


Wrestling: There is so much in wrestling that contributes to good sword fighting as well. Good stance, footwork, strength and stamina and a feeling for the principles of being hard or soft. Plus it's a lot of fun to roll around if noone comments on your play with "Ooooh! Catfight!"


Events 2014: I sometimes felt a bit alone when I accompanied Ingulf and the other guys to seminars and events. The urge to show the world the good female fencers of INDES is still big. So I held a presentation about the upcoming events, showed photos and told stories. We are definitely going to more in the future.


Throwing knives: Not necessarily part of HEMA, but it involves sharp steel blades. One of us taught herself how to do it when she was a child. Now she taught us.



Footwork: Sports fencers have amazing footwork and we can learn a lot of them. With the difference that we also put our left leg in front. A member who also has experience in sports fencing coached us on doing lunges and fast footwork.


The jungle of HEMA terms: Our training is usually focused on movement and less on words. But what is actually behind all these expressions like "zwerch" and "Schielhau" and "Alber"? Luckily, we have our own Linguist-ess who looked these words up in old dictionaries and gave us some background. This helped to understand certain techniques even better.


Thrusts: How to do them, when to do them and what to do against them...a course which also was a lot about footwork and the principle of distance.


Photoshoot: We think swords are beautiful. Most people do a certain sport because they like the way it looks. It's great to have fun and impressive photos of yourself doing your hobby, so at the end of the seminar, we put on our black dresses and played around, making a lot of cool photographs. Always be careful not to ruin the floor with high heels! :) Don't get us wrong. We love our fellow guys from our club. But just like men sometimes have to be among themselves in order to live out certain sides of their manhood, so do we! Because it seems to become much easier to talk freely, ask questions and share experiences.



The weekend showed us, how much nicer and more productive it is to work on something together. I am a biologist, an ecologist to be precise, and very early we learn about the survival of the fittest (Darwin). To some this means that it is important to be strong and tough. But it turns out that the most successful species are the ones that interact a lot and show good networking. In my opinion, this counts for HEMA as well. A big thanks to Claudia, Fran and Perica. Esfinges gave us not just a lot of inspiration, but it also does exactly what I was just talking about: networking.


Interview: Nicole Smith


Hot on the heels of her thrilling rapier final victory against her husband Lee Smith at EMA Gathering, we interview Nicole Smith of Blood and Iron Martial Arts, Canada.



Tell me a little bit about your current involvement in WMA (e.g. where do you train, what styles do you practice, who do you train with, etc)

I train at the school I own and run with my husband, Lee Smith; Blood and Iron Martial Arts. My first weapons were the rapier and dagger they will always be a favorite, but right now I am more focused on long sword. I also work with sword and buckler, dussack, messer and dagger. I practice with my husband and our competition team comprised of 10 of our top students. We push each other a lot harder during our fight team training. Having a national level conditioning coach on the team really helps as well. We primarily train from the works Meyer, Ringeck, Marozzo and Capo Ferro. We take what we have studied from the treatises and manuals and put them together with our modern understanding of body mechanics and physiology. It seems to be working.


What do you love about WMA? Why do you do it?

I love the feeling of confidence and strength that comes from practicing a martial art. I love the feeling of accomplishment after pulling off that one amazing shot against an accomplished advisory. But I really love the way you relate to someone after you have fought with them. The conversation of the blades between two fencers is like no other. You really get to know someone on a different level when you fence them. It is hard to explain unless you have experienced it, but every martial artist that spars will know what I mean. I do it because I love it. So much so, that it has become my life’s work.


What made you take up WMA (e.g. how did you discover it, what was your first session like, what made you decide to come along in the first place)?

I began practicing WMA for fitness and because I wanted to do something different and interesting. I am not a gym person. I don’t like working out on machines. I find I need a group to train with to motivate me. Sword fighting appealed because although it is an individual sport you still have the camaraderie of your sparring partners to keep you going. I don’t actually remember my first session but I do remember one asshole in our group that would just peg you in the head and never offer any tips or advise on how you might improve. This guy did not try to engage anyone in conversation until you had been around for at least three months, he would just beat you up and leave, off to the next person. I hated this guy. Surprisingly, I wound up married to him. 


What are the biggest challenges you've faced?

So far I have faced two real challenges. The first one is one we all face as women in HEMA. Being taken seriously. For me being a woman in HEMA in the beginning was like being relegated to “tag along” status. She is just doing it because her husband/ boyfriend is doing it was the usual assumption at tournament events. I did occasionally find this particular challenge a bit of an advantage. Men would underestimate me and count me out completely. It was the biggest surprise when they discovered their mistake. “You are a lot stronger than you look” was something I got used to hearing. The second challenge was more personal. In June of last year I completely severed my achilles tendon. I had it surgically reattached about a week later and spent an entire year on the sidelines. I am still undergoing physiotherapy but about three weeks ago I was finally given the go ahead to spar. I was both elated and disappointed. I was happy that I could finally fight but so dismayed at how far I had to go before I would be back to my former self. My skills are steadily improving. Just last weekend I was teaching at the So Cal event in California. I entered the rapier tournament just to see how I would do and I won third. I have a long way to go but it is nice to know I am not completely down for the count. 



What achievements are you most proud of, and what are your favorite memories?

I am very proud of what we have achieved with Blood and Iron. Starting in a church hall 4 years ago with four students, practicing two days a week and building it up to a 3000 sq ft training hall running classes 7 days a week with over 60 students is quite an achievement. We have trained and coached our students into placing and now winning tournaments in North America. I think that is something to be proud of. I have so many fond memories. I remember one of my first WMA events. I took one of the last bowie knife classes taught by Col. Dwight McLemore before he retired and I actually got to spar with him (he kicked my ass). I remember another taking another class and being so clumsy I accidentally stabbed Steve Huff in the eye during a drill he was instructing me on. He still reminds me about it to this day. I remember after blowing out my achilles tendon, helping teach a long sword class in Las Vegas from my wheelchair because I could not help myself when I saw people performing drills incorrectly. But my favorite memories are those when the people I was taking lessons from, began speaking to me as though I were one of them.


What are your WMA goals for the future?

I have a list of tournaments I would like to win…Longpoint, International Lowlands HEMA Gathering, Swordfish…..but mostly I would like to build Blood and Iron into the Best WMA school in the world. I know there are a few other schools with the same goal….we will see who gets there first.


Tell me more about your life (if any!) outside WMA.

Lee and I were laughing about this the other day. WMA and HEMA has pretty much become our life. Running your own business is a full time job. Lee is in charge of training curriculum and most classes and I pretty much run everything else. Our only day to ourselves is Sunday and it is not unusual for us to use it for cutting practice. We do try to make time for things not sword fighting related. Lee and I both shoot, we are members at our local range. We recently tried our hand at hunting…….we discovered it is just as much fun off-roading all weekend searching for bear as it is to actually find one…..right?


What response do you get from friends/family outside the WMA community when you tell them what you do?

My family has always though I was a little “different”. Even growing up I was the child looking for adventure. I began SCUBA diving as soon as I could pay for my own lessons, from there it was dragon boat racing, and out rigging. I was always looking for the unusual so it came as no surprise to them that I would take up sword fighting. My friends were another matter. Fencing… the Olympic stuff right? NO! Certainly not, I would explain, real sword fighting with actual swords not electrified car antennas. I was still working as a dental assistant when I began sword fighting and I remember another assistant noticing the frequent bruises on my arms and approaching me with the number of a women’s shelter. Because, you know, there are places you can go to talk about this. She thought I was crazy when I explained what I did for fun.


What advice would you give to other women thinking about, starting out in, or practicing WMA?

For those thinking about WMA…..get off your butt and start doing! For those starting out find a reputable school or teacher if you can. It will make such a difference in your development as a martial artist. I am always happy to direct people to groups and clubs in their area if I am asked and know of one. Secondly don’t be afraid to spar. Any groups or schools worth their salt will be encouraging and supportive of new fighters. We all have to start somewhere. Women sometimes have a hard time with this. Strangely it is not the fear of being hit, it is the fear of hurting someone. We are taught to be nurturers not fighters and I have encountered many women that are very uncomfortable actually hitting someone. It gets easier. But, unless you can apply techniques under duress you don’t really know them. For those that are practicing….Train hard and regularly. Until you build your reputation, you will always be underestimated as a woman when sparring. It is one of the realities of fencing with men. You will have to win their respect the same as any fighter, sometimes more so. Give them a good, hard fight and they will respect you. Secondly, spread the word. Tell everyone about what you are doing. Encourage your friends to come out and try a class or a practice. Women are very under-represented in HEMA and we are the only way that will change. Get out there, fight and promote yourself as an example of how beautiful strong can be. Show them, muscles are sexy!



Inspirational Fencers - Amanda Trail


Original photograph: Mandy Michels


Esfinges vows to share at least one motivational pic each month from one of our inspirational fighting women. The dance is led by Amanda Trail. She's been practising Historical European Martial arts for 3 years, her preferred weapon being the longsword. Her club is Iron Crown KdF in Spokane, Washington, USA.


Many thanks for sharing this awesome photo and wise words with us, Amanda!


Esfinges Twitter Talks


Esfinges would like to foster the same camaraderie and community for International HEMAistes on Twitter that it has successfully brought to Facebook. To this end, we will be starting a series of Twitter Talks starting in February. Twitter Talks are an hour of tweeted discussion using tags so that a large group can follow the conversation without everyone being tweeted directly - if only because then it would be difficult to fit everything into 140 characters. They occur at set times and ours will be hosted by @Esfinges1 or another nominated member of Esfinges.


The results of the Twitter Talk will also be made available through the Esfinges account. Basically, all tweets with the appropriate tag will be included, without bias to or against any one talk member. Links to the Storified discussion will be tweeted the following day as well as linked from the Esfinges blog and FB page.




#HEMAHour is every Monday, 7 - 8pm GMT (BST in summer)

An hour dedicated to discussing kit, weaponry, training, events and everything else Historical European Martial Arts related.


#WarriorWomenHour is every Thursday, 7 - 8pm GMT (BST in summer)

An hour focused on encouraging women in Martial Arts. This is the spot to share tips and advice specific to women - from sports bras to fitness training, from adjusting personal technique to overcoming mental blocks.


We're aware that the times are somewhat restricted by the location of the Twitter Pilot and if anyone would be interested in hosting earlier or later hours (i.e. at 7 - 8 pm local time or whenever is convenient), please get in touch with @Esfinges1 on Twitter.


We're also aware that there may be further subject areas people would like to discuss so, if you wish to nominate one, please talk to the Twitter Pilot through @Esfinges1.


If any such additions are forth coming, we'll issue a new Twitter Talks blog update.


House Rules


Twitter Talks are open to anyone who feels they have an interest, regardless of sex, gender, sexuality, age, colour, religion, ability, etc. The main rule is simply to respect each other. However, the following pointers may help:


Any views expressed during the Twitter Talk are those of the person expressing them, not Esfinges (or, in the case of @Esfinges1, the views of the Twitter Pilot, not the whole organisation). Esfinges is a support and social group, not a political movement and is about encouraging conversation, not insisting there is only one way to do things.


However, the right to express opinion does not extend to the right to disrespect others. If debate devolves to name-calling and personal insults, leave the talk to cool down or be blocked by everyone else. Your choice.


If you feel the need to block someone, please announce it first along with why. Other members of the Talk need to be aware of what you can and can't see happening.


If you feel the need to report behaviour, the host will support you to the hilt, pun intended. All tweets will be put on Storify so there will be records of any abuse. Please announce such action first. Negotiation of a peace, or at least a truce, would also be appreciated.


Advertising in HEMA: Beauty and Banality

The information and views set out in this post are those of the author and do not reflect any official opinion of Esfinges.


Additional note due to several comments: Esfinges is an Open forum and our ideal is that people get the space to give uncensored free opinions, once again these posts Do NOT reflect the ideas of all the organization but the ones of their owners. Censoring a post would be against our ideals. We have no intention to harm anyone's Image and we don't take responsibility for the reaction this post can give to the readers.  Also this post talks about a Situation not an organization.


By Kaja Sadowski



The image on the top was posted on Wiktenauer’s Facebook page this Wednesday as part of their annual fundraising campaign to cover the site’s operating costs. It was shared widely (at least 11 times), before being abruptly removed. There had been some very heated responses to the post from within the HEMA community (along with competing accusations of “PC-ness” and prudery) and the discussion continued on several users’ personal walls after the post came down. There was also a very lively discussion within the Esfinges private Facebook group.


I’d like to talk about the ad more publicly, not to further criticize the Wiktenauer admins for posting it, but to start a broader conversation about advertising within our community and to look at why this ad in particular struck a nerve for many HEMA women. The message an ad conveys comes both from what it shows, and what it’s saying to its audience. In this case, neither one is good.


What it’s showing is a pretty, young woman who doesn’t have anything at all to do with Wiktenauer or HEMA. She’s mostly undressed, and is in a pretty typical cheesecake pose where her arms are squeezing her breasts together to show off her cleavage. It’s obvious that she’s neither holding nor even looking at the book that’s been Photoshopped in front of her, and the hastiness of the editing job only underscores that fact. It’s not like there aren’t pretty, interesting women in HEMA — heck, the current Esfinges group cover photo is full of awesome female fighters in their fanciest dresses holding swords that they know how to use. I bet more than a few of them have read some of the treatises that Wiktenauer hosts as well. But instead of showing a fighter or a historical scholar actually taking an interest in what Wiktenauer provides, the ad’s designer chose a generic girl who’s not doing anything but being attractive. She could be a HEMA practitioner, even a passionate supporter and reader of Wiktenauer, but you’d never know it from the photo.


By making that choice, the ad implicitly tells women who are part of the HEMA community how we should be seen. Not as active practitioners of our martial arts, but as passive objects who are there to be pretty first, and useful second. If that image represents us, then our knowledge doesn’t matter, our fighting ability doesn’t matter, nor does our dedication to our training and study. Just our looks. It’s dismissive, and insulting, and it doesn’t reflect how we see our role within the community at all.


It’s also not a particularly flattering reflection of the ad’s audience. Wiktenauer is an incredibly valuable community resource. It’s a carefully maintained collection of knowledge that would otherwise be inaccessible to most of us. It’s important, and worth supporting based on that fact alone. If we need to be tricked into caring for one of our greatest assets with a completely unrelated picture of a beautiful woman, then we’re in sad shape as a community. It’s insulting to treat the straight men of HEMA as drooling idiots who need a pair of breasts shoved in their face before they’ll actually support a worthwhile cause, but that’s exactly how the ad is presenting its audience.


I’m not upset by the ad because I don’t like to see images of pretty women, or because I’m offended by a bit of cleavage. I’m upset because I expect better from our community, and I’m disappointed to see an ad that paints all of our members — male and female — in such a negative light. How we talk and advertise within the community is just as important as how we present ourselves to the outside world, and it can reinforce or undermine the respect we hold for our fellow practitioners. We can, and should, do a lot better than this.




Note: After the image was removed, Ben Floyd launched a contest for new banner ad designs for the funding drive. If you’d like to submit an image that reflects the value that Wiktenauer holds for us and how we’d like to see ourselves, you can submit it here.


Regardless of how inappropriate their choice of ad was, the current fundraiser is a worthwhile cause. If you’ve relied on Wiktenauer for your studies in the past, or think you will in the future, you’ve got until the end of the month to donate.


Fighting the prejudice

The information and views set out in this post are those of the author and do not reflect any official opinion of Esfinges.


By Mariana "Perica" López R.


When it comes to talk about weaknesses, problems and issues it’s always a danger to whoever tries to do it. If the ideas are not expressed correctly we can easily sound like someone who’s just childishly complaining, someone with many complexes and lack of self esteem or a person who cares too much about what others say. Sometimes by trying not to sound like a victim one ends up posing the problem as something that does not matter too much even if it does, this among many more bad results can lead to this specific post, and none of these are my intention. To be clear I will only talk about my personal experience and situations I’ve been close to, so my following writing will not apply to every woman in the world but I bet I will get a few agreements on my comments. 

Today I decided to answer a question Jake Priddy made for his thesis… A question I always answer in my mind every time someone asks me about the needs of a female fighter but I never say out loud, and the answers I gave to him were not as near to the thoughts that run in my brain.


When it comes to sword fighting and pretty much to half of the activities I enjoy doing I break many of the regular patterns of a typical girl. I’m from México which is mainly a catholic country and my state is known as one of the most conservative ones, living here means that sword fighting, leather and wood work, starting a small collection of tools and asking for heavy machinery to work with in my Christmas wish list, plus arriving with bruises to college, etc. is everything but the expected and acceptable of any woman. No matter how long people know me, not all can get used to my “strange” activities. With this said, I have to add that I am lucky to have an amazing family who instead of caring about social graces always inspire me to keep at it, yet it also means I’ve been often part of many interesting conversations. Ones where I’m a strange subject of analysis, criticisms, laughter and even sometimes admiration, therefore I feel qualified to talk about this (Even if I’m no psychologist or such).


Now to the Point! The terrible question Jake decided to post in public: And I quote “Does being a woman and a fighter cause something that has to be mentally resolved?” The answer: YES, yes and who ever say no is either a liar, hasn't realized the surrounding situation, or lives in a very cool community I want to live in.


Humans are social and therefore our surroundings will always affect us, the way we assimilate social pressure has much to do with our personality in other situations, but saying surroundings does not affect us is a big fat lie. When a woman is criticized she can have many reactions, but to shorten them to two we can: either respond and fit again into society so we stop being criticized or ignore the comments and keep on doing what we do, but people don’t understand that the “ignoring the others” part has its own set ups and its own complications. Let’s go by parts.


Girls must act like Girls! (The view of people outside HEMA)

I met this friend, she had a few years in HEMA, she even started getting money to buy armour, and was the only girl in her club. Her family hated her doing HEMA, the only seminar she got to go to was only for one day and with her dad as a companion to check out what she was doing because she’s overly protected (and she was no baby). All she got to hear from her mom was how unladylike she was. Later one she quitted and tried dancing. She still loved to fight, and she bought a steel sword, without her parent’s knowledge. That sword spent more than a month in the back of the car of one of his friends because she didn’t want her parent’s to find out about it, no matter if her parents kind of accepted her like for HEMA albeit  not in a positive way… Now she has nothing to do with HEMA but the friends she made and a sword hidden under her bed.


Now what happens to the ones who get over that social pressure?

Once a lady decides to break the pattern and take the fighter road, she automatically loses her ladylike identity and becomes a tomboy in the eyes of outsiders. Once you are a fighter you turn “macho” in the eyes of many, also at least in my experience once I get to be acknowledged as a fighter therefore macho, the instant next idea of many people that don’t know me well is that this also implies I’m a lesbian. Being called both of those doesn’t offend me at all, I recognize I can be a tomboy on a certain subjects, and I have many homosexual friends who I admire, but it’s just sad how these three concepts need to be together with no exception. There is no place for female fighters who are not homosexual, lesbians, who are not tomboys, etc. This ends up becoming a bad discussion trying to find out if we should promote female fighters as bad ass and feminine, or accepting they are not, forgetting a female fighter can be any kind of women who actually likes to fight, with their own personalities and conditions.


If people know me as a fencer they get surprised that I can like high heels and short dresses, and that I even know how to make up my self properly, those who know me in skirt and painted nails can’t understand I do such a thing as HEMA, unless I have a bruise which often leads into a panic reaction on how can I dare to show marks of my brutality in public. At the same time, being a fencer suddenly means I have to defend my sexuality due to assumptions. Well how lazy and retarded is this! If I’m not offended by being call a lesbian why would I worried about defending my sexuality? Well I’m in a happy relationship in this moment of my life, but think for a moment: if I were single, interested in having a relationship, living in a conservative state, and people thinking I’m homosexual then when in the hell will a random guy approach me to find out I’m not? And even if they find I’m not, how is he going to approach a girl who doesn’t mind walking around with bruises, should I need to change my way of dressing to cover that?


Adding to that I’ve often heard from many males that they would not like to date a girl who can defend herself and needs no protection, or even worse they can’t date girls who are stronger than them. Now the regular answer for me is why in hell would I like to date with people with this way of thinking? Of course I would not, but not everyone is me, also I’m used to those comments since I’m small… what about the people who are not used to that?


Once you decide to become a female fighter, for some of us it also means to choose to deal with this all the time as well, and this can be either something of little care or something very exhausting depending on personal situations and personalities. I’m not saying males are immune to social pressure, of course they aren't, especially those whose parents want them to be doctors and not fencers, but In a general idea: a male who decides to fight, just goes and fights, a girl who chooses to fight, also has to fight society’s old fashioned ideas.


Gender difference means you will always be a weak fighter

Oh yes my dear friends I’m stepping up to that horrible subject! Well this time I’m not coming with my personal assumptions only!

Months ago my friend Maxime Chouinard arrived with a little jewel as a present, this present was a magazine called Skeptic, this magazine had an article called Gender differences. Through the reading I had nothing else but to agree with what the author of the article said on it. This article of skeptic ( quoted different scientific articles from psychological to genetics, from chromosomes mutations to brain functioning, etc, etc. concluding how even if science can show certain difference between male and woman the great majority of those so believed differences are a social creation rather than a reality, showing the fact that many achievements that male and female do in certain areas is greatly affected mostly because of set up ideas rather because they can or can’t actually do it, so to say female will develop the vest in “female stuff” because they feel more secure in it because it is “female stuff” and vice versa.


I’m aware of physical gender differences, my mother is a physiotherapist I have many friends studying medicine and of course I also know many smart friends in the HEMA world, so I’m very aware of the magic weight, stature and bones can do. But ok, let’s ignore this and say still bone structure and all that it’s to noticeable and that god is great and by no reason genetics can make female a little male boney or inverse etc, etc. Because I’m by far not someone with a manly body structure.

In male dominant activities it’s not strange to see that many martial art instructors focus with a lot of dedication on the bone structure to adapt techniques in the best way to fit them but they don’t realize that if there is such a thing as bone structure difference there should be also adaptations for the female bone structure. One cool example was shown by my brother while watching Chinese kung fu movies. We all know actors of Chinese kung fu movies actually know kung fu, and if you pay attention to these films, males and females release the most in different parts of their bodies while fighting (girls in legs and hips, guys in arms and chest) putting them in a similar level of conditions during the fight, yes, yes they are movies!! But they are doing something many instructors don’t, adapting things to everyone’s needs so differences turn into advantages and not disadvantages, such as happens to small people who don’t know what to do with their smallness in a fight and such. Well why someone would put himself to think about working on this difference if, we just teach the same to all and understand by the very beginning that women are weaker?


Stop! Did I just say women are weaker? Hold on! It’s too soon to hate me!


Society! For ages all we hear is females are weak, well if these have been said for centuries it must be right, no? Well actually no, for centuries we have believed many things that year by year have been proved wrong, earth being flat, atom being the smaller particle to find in the universe, and that yawning without covering your mouth can make your soul go away from your body.

Imagine that since you were born even if not at home, you hear all the time “women are weaker”: let’s play lucha libre! “No, how boring, women are weaker” let’s make running races! “I will win, women are weaker” I lose “It’s ok, women are weaker” let’s swordfight with sticks in the tree house “ok, but don’t fight her to hard, women are weaker” let’s have a sparring “I don’t fight women, women are weaker” she likes to dance “women are weaker, they do weak activities” I want to do this “you have no chance, women are weaker” I like this “are you sure you want to do it? Women are weaker” I love to fight “wow, I admire you, girls often don’t do that because women are weaker” I accomplished this “it’s a great achievement considering women are weaker” I won! “No I let you win, you can’t win if I do my best because women are weaker. You have no chance against me”. Every time, every day, at home, at school, at work, in the street, in the commercials, in the regular conversations, since you born until the moment you die, It does not matter if your parents don’t tell you so, someone else will do it for them someone will send the message of how women are weaker. After 15, 20, 30 years of hearing that, even if you don’t believe it, take a weapon, put yourself to work, fight, fail and try to avoid that message popping up in your mind to give you a fast explanation on why you failed, every time, every single time you fail until you either get over it, or fall into it and use it as your way to not feel bad with yourself.


Ok let’s say you are awesome and that idea doesn’t pop into your brain, still someone will say that for you, the moment of failing it’s frustrating it will always be on a certain level, all you need is to get those words instead of something that gets your energy back on track. To make a strange comparison: The idea of women being weaker is inserted in society the same way the idea pink is a girly color.


And not only women are weaker in people’s minds, sometimes women just rely on themselves being weak instead of researching how to work with what they have so they can improve and stop being weak, instead of realizing maybe it’s not weakness but just a wrong way to train to accomplish what they want (well as long as they are not afraid of getting stronger by thinking getting strong means looking all bulky which would make no man in the world like her). I strongly believe that we will never be able to prove women are weaker until we reach the moment where no male or female believes and teaches such a statement, without that mind set up maybe things would be different.Once again don't read me wrong I'm aware of physics differences and how it affects, muscle mass and such, but we have to be aware not every one give the right approach tho those differences and we have to understand difference are not weaknesses and that calling some one weak will not let her reach her maximum point of strength weather it's more on less that the male general. 


To make it just better some girls not only struggle with getting accepted on the outside but also on the inside of their fighting communities even if people don’t mean things to be that way. I’m aware I’m not the best HEMAist in the media, but for the past 5 years my old club lasted to my new club which is about to start we have been the only HEMA club that ever existed in my state, and more than once since I started teaching in my club, many people have thrown away the idea of training with us because the instructor is a girl. Do I want people with that mentality in my club? No. Would that affect me even if I don’t care about it? Yes. I ended up needing to be more “authoritarian” and “grumpy” in my way of teaching guys, compared to my brother who’s also an instructor, just because otherwise I didn’t get as much respect, so this way some of those who said “bah she’s a girl” reacted and said “oh maybe she can”.

Once again I’m not saying everyone is like this, and once again I’m talking about female fencers in martial arts or fighting sports in general. Thankfully HEMA is a very inclusive community, we don’t “suffer” most of the things other girls in other martial arts or fighting sports suffer or at least not as much. I have female friends who do weight lifting, who are in the wrestling team of her colleges and such, and they are more exposed to the points I’ve  heard myself in a HEMA tournament: a guy saying he would not fight a girl under any circumstances because he might hurt her, just to mention a few situations. But let’s just remember a HEMA fighter does not live only in the HEMA world, we also live in the regular life of every day society, our community is very refreshing when it comes to gender situations and the silly ideas that have subsisted with the time. Still we are not free of failures, no community will ever be and it is no harm to know, more like I strongly believe people must know all the processes some have to work on within their process to be a martial artist. Either for males or females, getting into martial arts is not only fighting the physical but the mental. But when the mental is gaming with an entire cultural idea… doesn’t that make the fighter even a better fighter?

Many girls have shown up at my HEMA club, and with a few exceptions it wasn’t weird that once a girl showed up her first training day was more about fighting herself about whether she should be doing that or not because she’s a girl. Scared of practice with a guy because they are stronger, thinking the techniques shown are impossible for them to make because they are girls, most of the times they run to wherever I was asking me to work with them, and trying to find from me an answer on how to survive the things they couldn’t do, my response was to do the exercise with the guy club member who looked the biggest and most bad ass to show them they can do it, and half of those times instead of feeling sure they can do it the answer was to think I was an exceptional strange unique specimen. Feeling silly or weird about doing such a thing as fighting; I agree martial arts are not for everyone still wouldn’t it be different if those initial ideas weren’t in your mind?

I even know situations of girls who train but don’t fight because it’s not ladylike!

Many other girls I know like martial arts, but will never take up on them no matter how much they see other girls doing it, because even if they like it they “know “ its “not a female thing” specially when they arrive to a place full of testosterone, smelly strong bad ass boys (and that’s not bad that’s how it often is). Well for me that’s heaven but even guys can feel out of place when they arrive to a place full of bad ass experienced fencers, now imagine a girl who just by going is carrying hundreds of prejudices on her back.


A male who decides to start training and fight will go train and fight, a girl who decides to train and fight has to train, learn to teach herself not to think she’s weak for being a female, not to let herself accept outside comments to explain her faults by saying being a girl makes her weak, learn that her actual weaknesses have to do with other things that are not her sex. Then fight, and repeat all the process again.

Some of us have gone through all this and more, some of us have only suffered a small part, some other girls maybe haven’t felt this at all, but it would be a lie to say all of this doesn’t make many girls not feel confident enough to start on Martial arts, secure enough to keep at it, or good enough to improve. I don’t want to paint girls as accomplished sad rabbits who have to cry tears of blood and all female martial artist are martyrs I just want to let people know that Yes, being a woman and a fighter causes something that has to be mentally resolved and to tell girls it’s okay to accept if they have to go through that and that it sucks, and then just take up our weapons and kick ass.


My question to give back would be… if by knowing this, whoever is reading it, would change something in the way they act: certain clubs, classes, general attitudes or way of teaching or approaching fighters?


Advice from five inspirational female fighters for 2014


By Claudia Krause


Inspired by this article in HEMANews, we have brought together some words of wisdom from five female fighters in HEMA. 2014 is looking to be a great year for our art, we all need motivation to keep our resolve to become better fencers and martial artists. So here is some advice from some of the most inspirational women fighters of 2013.



A Trickle But Not a Torrent: Tears and the Female Fighter


By Courtney Rice and Randy Packer (Valkyrie Western Martial Arts Assembly)


Vera’d had a great day at work. Her boss had called her into his office late in the day. She went with the usual stab of fear - what mistake had she made to warrant a private meeting? It turned out to be quite the opposite. He wanted to praise her recent project. And backed up the nice words with a hefty raise.


She was bouncing as she entered the school gym where her twice-weekly fencing classes were held. She grinned at her favourite training partner and they planned to go out for beers afterwards to celebrate (unlike most days, when they go out for beers afterwards to fight off the post-workout pain, drown their relationship sorrows, or simply out of habit). She zipped through the warm up with more energy than usual, buoyed by her good mood.


The class grabs swords, masks, and minimal armour to start the day’s drills. Vera’s still distracted and energetic, and she and her partner get chastised a couple of times for speeding up during what’s supposed to be slow precision work. Slightly ashamed, they get back to work, slowly.


Then it happens. Feeding off each other’s energy, they speed up again, just a bit. What’s supposed to be a quarter-speed, no-pressure hit goes wrong as Vera steps the wrong direction, and the tip of her partner’s sword lands with a thump right in the middle of her chest.


Vera’s knocked breathless for a moment, and feels a wave of heat wash over her. The tears come alongside the jumbled rush of thoughts that inevitably follows: “Ow, that hurt ...pain... you jerk! ...anger... Shit, it was my fault ...guilt... why did I go left instead of right? Still hurts .. pain... at least I can breathe now ...fear... why is everybody looking at me? ...confusion... And why the FUCK are my goddamned eyes leaking?!?  ...anger/shame/panic confusion/annoyance pain/frustration...”



If you’re new to combat sports, you will be caught off guard the first time this happens to you. Sure, you’ve cried before, sometimes at nothing more than a sappy commercial. But being struck by another person when you’re already amped up on adrenaline is an entirely different experience than stubbing your toe on the coffee table for the fifth time this month. Knowing what’s going on is a good start to removing an extra layer of stress, worry, panic, and confusion.


Crying is a response to pain, stress, or strong emotion. In women, the tear duct is smaller than it is in men. This simple mechanical difference has an effect on how quickly tears will break out of the tear duct. It’s a tiny difference … but enough to make the small step between a tear brimming on the edge and the wet running down the cheek come a little quicker than in men.


It’s not quite that simple, though. The real kicker is hormonal. Testosterone and androgen are the two hormones that act as a brake on tear production. The higher the levels of those hormones, the higher the tearing threshold. If you have low levels of testosterone and androgen, you will also have a low tearing threshold. It’s one of the reasons we speak of “old man tears.” As a man ages his testosterone levels decrease, so he cries more easily than he did when he was younger.


Being lower in both these hormones, women cry more easily than men. That’s not news, and it’s not even a particularly interesting fact, even when the science backs it up. For athletes in a combat sport it’s a little more interesting to know the reasons behind crying, because our training gives us so many occasions to cry. The normal stresses of training combined with an unexpected impact, not even a notably hard impact, can easily breach the tear threshold.


For coaches, it’s critical to understand the mechanics when we are coaching women or mixed groups. Women do cry more easily and therefore more often, but it needs to be understood that they aren’t crying for the same reasons. Crying in a female athlete needs to be assessed differently than in male athletes. It’s just as important for the athletes (male and female) to understand what’s happening to themselves and their teammates to avoid unnecessary emotional repercussions.



Putting aside obvious cases of injury, tears from a female athlete should be considered part of the training environment. Recognizing that they are triggered more easily than in male athletes, it should also be recognized that they mean less. While most adults of either sex have developed a social control over their individual crying reflex, the inherent stresses of combat sport training can undermine that conditioning. Less than traumatic impacts can still deliver an unexpected shock to the body, and when that is combined with the internal critiques that are common in all athletes, the tear trigger level can be easily surpassed.


For the most part, the tears are nothing more than a sign of intense, or even just moderate emotion. A male athlete feeling the same level of emotion might react with swearing, a visible show of gritting teeth, shaking the limbs out, posturing and shouting, having a grumpy exchange with another athlete or vocally berating themselves.


If a male fighter gets cracked in the head during a sparring bout, at a higher than expected level of force, he might swear loudly, throw his sword down, and pace for a moment or two. The coach will usually raise an eyebrow, wander over to see if any actual injury happened, and if none did...usually issue a slight warning to both parties to be more careful. The fight continues and no one really notices.


When the same situation happens to a female fighter, she may react the same, or she might cry. It’s important to understand that both are equivalent reactions to the male reaction and need to be dealt with the same way. Assuming the safety/first aid assessment shows no issues, the reaction should be the same as it is with the male athlete. Move to return the class back to productive work as soon as possible.


Male or female, an overt display of emotion or pain can leave the athlete feeling exposed immediately afterwards. The coach should, by their actions, show that such displays are business as usual, and not worth any special attention. Tears, for the most part, are no different than any other display of emotion.


When you’re coaching mixed classes, the athletes will follow the lead of the coach or teacher. By accepting tears as normal, the athlete will start to see them as a normal part of training, and not worthy of any special attention. They will be less of a distraction to the person with the tears and to the rest of the class, which is how it should be.


As the athlete in the middle of an unasked-for crying fit, you can’t quite dismiss the episode immediately, you have to wait until your hormones are done with their little party in your bloodstream. The first thing to do is self-assess: Are you actually injured? Count all your limbs, major and minor, and scan the floor for tell-tale blood spots. Once you’ve determined that your skin and bones are still intact, remind yourself that this is normal, it sucks, but it happens sometimes.


Informing those around you is the next step, particularly the person on the other end of the sword (or fist) that struck you. Make sure they know you’re not injured, just a bit shaken and possibly mad as hell. If they come over to check on you, tell the person in charge the same thing, and don’t let them stop the class on your behalf. Remember the first time you went through this, and keep in mind that your partner or instructor may be witnessing the phenomenon for the first time and may be just as confused as you were then. If you need an analogy, tell them to imagine you were just kicked in the testicles, and to please treat you accordingly. Give your hormones some time to get themselves back in order before picking up your sword again. Sit down for a minute and sip some water if you need to, or just take a couple of deep breaths and make sure you can see well enough to continue.


If you’re in the middle of a competition bout, the way to deal with it will vary a bit depending on the situation and the rules. Assuming the trigger shot didn’t end the bout, your first priority (after the injury assessment) will be to maintain your tournament mindset. Pre-tournament training will help with this, if you practice dealing with a variety of physical or mental stress factors (doing handstands before sparring, or being pointedly stared at while fighting, for example), it’s easy to brush off the tears as just one more. Unfortunately you can’t control other people, so the marshall or your opponent may hesitate and question your ability to continue. Make it clear that you are in control of yourself and are willing and able to continue. Be brief and to the point with your explanation. Stay focused on the fight, and get back to it as quickly as possible.


Vera rips her mask off and grabs a nearby towel. She wipes her face dramatically.


“Damn, am I sweaty today!” she declares, at volume.


The class erupts in laughter, and goes back to their drills.



Periods and Training

The information and views set out in this post are those of the author and do not reflect any official opinion of Esfinges.


By Kimberley Smithbower-Roseblade


PERIODS! There. I said it and got it out in the open right away. Our periods. We have been made to view them as a hindrance and an inconvenience that we as women have been cursed with that prevents us from doing things such as swimming in public pools, biking in short-shorts, or training and competing in HEMA.


We've been taught to see our periods as not just an inconvenience, but as something to be ashamed of and to keep hidden. We’ve been taught that we need “sanitary napkins” or “feminine hygiene products” which imply that our blood, and even more so our vaginas, are unsanitary and shouldn’t be touched. Heaven forbid that a woman might actually explore, understand and relate to her own body and cycle! As yoga instructor and slam poet Julie Peters has said:


"Tampons are designed to avoid such contaminative contact: they have contraptions involving white plastic applicators designed by NASA scientists that can help you to never touch your vagina even while you are inserting a piece of bleached wood pulp by-product into it. The first time I tried this, I got the applicator tube stuck, and only when I went to pull it out by its white string did I realize that there was a plastic thing with a sharp sphincter-like end that, for all I know, was trying to eat my cervix the whole time it was in there."


This attitude that we as women have been forced to adopt through media and commercialism needs to be quelled. It is counterproductive to us, as women, to feminism and to the mentality we take with us into our training. Since we can't ignore our periods (despite how much we may try!) we might as well find ways in which we can work with our periods.



The attempt to ignore, suppress and be ashamed of our menstrual cycles - and for older women our menopausal cycles - has only added to the problem. The more we are allowed to understand and honour our cycles and share this with other women and our male colleagues, the more we'll be able to find success and comfort with our bodies and with our place as martial artists. We can use our cycles to help us train better and to understand the art in which we practice.


When we are ovulating, we are most energetic and magnetic. This is a great time to train hard, compete and to spar lots. If we are teachers, this is a great time for us to give lectures and workshops. When we are menstruating, the right and left hemispheres of our brain are communicating better than any other time in our cycles, which increases our intuitive and creative capabilities. This is a great time for us to read and even translate historical manuals, or start a discussion group with other HEMA practitioners as we dissect and think about the body mechanics we use and how we apply them to our training.


I am fortunate to teach at my academie. One of the classes I coach is called SwordFit, think of modern day circuit training and calisthenics mixed with solo form and weapons flow drills. I can't take a week off or stop training when I am bleeding - my students are depending on me. When menstruating we have the hormone relaxin running through our system, which is the same hormone that loosens the muscles and joints of pregnant women preparing for labour. Strenuous exercise with a core that can’t fully engage runs the risk of putting your lower back in danger- trust me I know this from experience. I tried to lead my class in an intense abs and oblique set when I was menstruating and for three days afterwards my lower back was extremely displeased with me. However, I can alter my classes so that I'm not putting strain on my core and abdomen which squeezes up on muscles that are trying to release. Instead, I will lead my students in weight training exercises focusing on the arms, shoulders and upper back, or work on strengthening the legs. When menstruating, I avoid deep stretching after my classes and instead opt for soft yoga where I allow my belly to relax.


A great way to understand your cycle better is to start tracking it! Listen to your body and make notes. What foods do you crave when you’re ovulating? Do you experience any pre-menstrual cramps or other signs that your period may be approaching? Does stress or lack of sleep make your period arrive later or earlier than usual? Some women are lucky and have never experienced cramps, or heavy bleeding with their periods. Every woman is different and our own individual cycles change all the time. The more we begin to understand our bodies and can recognize signs and patterns the easier it will be to work with our bodies.


Try looking into alternative menstrual products that are healthier for you, your body and Mother Nature. Try organic, non-bleached tampons, or if tampons are not for you, there are luna pads and other options that are far better for your body and our environment. Many women I talk to swear by their diva cups - a product I have yet to try myself. The diva cup is a reusable, bell-shaped menstrual cup that is inserted and worn internally and sits low in the vaginal canal. The diva cup collects your blood rather than absorbing it and most women need only to empty, wash and re-insert it twice a day when on their periods. Many of my woman friends have said that since switching to the diva cup (also known as a moon cup) their periods have become lighter and they encounter less blood when compared to the gush many women experience when removing tampons. Many of these women are very fit and work out, train, do yoga and run and they have found that their diva cups are a great companion for an active lifestyle.


Don't be afraid to let the people you train with know that you are on your period. When we are recovering from ‘flu, or getting over an injury we have no problem letting our instructors and training partners know that we need to adjust our activity levels. Why should our periods be any different? Periods are a part of our life and a very frequent, common part of our life. By breaking away from the shame our western culture has tried to push on women in regards to our periods we can start to work towards an age of acceptance and communication- and not just with other women but with the men in our lives.


Many men I speak to say they wish that they understood women's cycles better. Many heterosexual men don't even become exposed to it until they enter their first serious relationship with a woman and often their girlfriends, wives and lovers try to hide and shy away from them when they are menstruating. When we open ourselves up and allow the men in our lives to know when we are on our periods, and what that means for us when we're training, we are opening up a better way for them to understand us and communicate with us. Many men are curious and are afraid to ask questions about a women's cycle. When we openly talk about our cycles, breaking this cultural taboo, it allows men the chance to feel comfortable to approach us and ask these questions that will allow them to better understand us.


I know for some women the idea of talking about their cycles to a man- and even another woman- makes them feel uncomfortable. I am lucky to train and live on the West Coast of North America where such candid, open discussions happen regularly. However, HEMA and Western Martial Arts spreads itself into an international community. In certain ares of the world talking about one's period to anyone is not something that is culturally or socially acceptable. It is each woman's individual prerogative as to whether or not she wants to openly discuss her cycle. Take whatever you want, or don't want to from this article. No woman should ever feel pressure to do anything that she does or does not want to do. May every woman be allowed to learn, experience and grow into her power in whatever ways she feels is best suited to her- and may we as women help encourage each other on this path.


So let us embrace our cycles and help ourselves and other women learn how we can work with them. Our periods don't have to be a hindrance that stops us from training. The better we understand our bodies and our natural rhythms the more it allows us to become better fighters and practitioners of the art that brings us all together.

A Girl from Middle Earth


Samantha Catto-Mott, one of our newest members, hails from down under, where she has an accomplished CV both in martial arts and creative arts. She has kindly taken the trouble to write her blog post in both English and Spanish, to honour our founders.




Hello ladies! Thank you for inviting me to this group. I’m an Aussie from the mountains of western Sydney, who calls New Zealand home. I’ve been passionate about writing, sword-fighting, and illustration since I was old enough to hold a stick.


I’m an artist, working in the film industry since 2008. I’ve made armour and props for the Hobbit and Elysium, weapons for Narnia, aliens for District 9, Krypton guns for Superman, zombies and dragons for a KISS concert and many other exciting projects at the amazing Weta Workshop.


I also act for stage and screen, and I now combine my outdoor adventure and martial arts skills for more action-based roles. My fighting background is very diverse, and has always been driven by my passion for swords.


I’ve been learning HEMA for around five years. I trained for six months in mounted combat (including jousting) and have several years of Olympic fencing habits that I’m trying to forget  I also explored re-enactment battle fighting, the SCA, hapkido, muay thai, Russian Systema, freestyle karate, and in one case I had the chance to learn MMA from a former Chicago gangster!  However, through it all, the longsword is my first love.


I am lucky to have had exceptional teachers, and I learn German and Italian systems from Colin McKinstry. He has studied many of the European Martial Arts and is a wealth of knowledge for the HEMA community.


I really enjoy stage fighting, for completely opposite reasons to actual combat. I love story-telling and performance, and sword fighting has such wonderful drama that captures the imagination of almost everyone.


It excites me that the profile of HEMA is growing, and slowly the Hollywood perception from the days of Errol Flynn is being convinced to the deadly, complex effectiveness of our forgotten arts.


It also gladdens me that there are now many powerful, feminine role models emerging in the media and the fighting world. I look forward to the day when we chicks with sticks are equal to- if not better than- the boys!


Best wishes to all of you sister sphinxes,
~Samantha Swords, 
New Zealand


P.S. For your interest- I post my artwork to and I tweet regularly @SamanthaSwords



Hola Senoras! Gracias para la invitacion al groupo. Soy una Aussie desde las montanas de occidental Sydney, que llama Nueva Zelanda mi hogar. He sido apasionado de la escritura, espada combates, e ilustración desde que tenía edad suficiente para sostener un palo.


Soy una artista, trabajando en la industria cinematográfica desde 2008. He hecho armadura y apoyos para El Hobbit y Elysium, armas para Narnia, extraterrestres para Sector 9, pistolas de Krypton para Superman, zombies y dragones para un KISS concierto y muchos otros projectos emocionante en el extraordinario Weta Workshop.


Tambien actúo en la etapa y la pantalla, y combino mi Aventuras afuera y técnicas de artes marciales para papeles mas basados en acción. Mi experiencia de lucha es muy diverso y siempre ha sido impulsada por mi pasión por espadas.


Yo he estado aprendiendo HEMA para cinco anos. entrené para seis meses en combate montado (incluyendo justas) y tengo varios anos de habitos en esgrima Olimpiadas que estoy tratando de olvidar!


Tambien exploré batalla lucha reconstrucción, el SCA, hapkido, muay thai, Systema Ruso, karate libre, y en un caso tenia la fortuna de aprender MMA de un ex-gangster de Chicago!  Sin embargo, a través de todo esto, la larga espada es mi primer amor. Tengo la suerte a he tenido maestros excepcionales, y aprendo systemas Alemanes y Italianas de Colin McKinstry. Él ha estudiado muchas de las Artes marciales europeas y es una riqueza de conocimientos en la comunidad HEMA.


Me gusta mucho etapa combates, para completamente las razones opuestos a verdadero combate. Me encanta contar cuentos y actuación, y espada combates tiene drama tan maravilloso que captura la imaginacion de casi todos.


Estoy excitada que la imagen de HEMA esta creciendo, y poco a poco el percepcion de Hollywood, desde los dias de Errol Flynn, está siendo convencido a la letalidad y complejidad de nuestras artes olvidadas.


También me alegra que ahora hay muchas modelos de papel que son fuerte y Femenino, surgiendo en la media y en el mundo de la lucha. Espero con interés a el dia cuando nosotras chicas con palos somos iguales a - si no mejor que - los chicos!


Mejores deseos a todos ustedes hermanas esfinges,
~Samantha Swords, 
Nueva Zelanda


P.S. Por su interés – Publico mi arte en y hago tweets regularmente en @SamanthaSwords

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