What do we want to get from HEMA and how do we get it?

This blog is all about my experiences as a HEMA practitioner in Ireland. My original intention was to cover the IHFL and mix that in with musings about technique, training, teaching and the culture around HEMA as I saw it. I didn’t enter the league last year due to other commitments and have just missed the first event of this years league. In this post I will be looking at what I want to get out of HEMA as an activity and why. I know it’s all got a bit navel-gazey recently but that is just where I am at.

As with almost all the optional activities I engage in (breathing, exchanging my labour for wages to prevent starvation etc. not included), I hope to have several wants fulfilled. I have practical, philosophical and psychological ends in mind. It is a little circular to define them in this way. My psychological goals are tied to fulfilment of the other two, success in practical goals are judged by the extent to which they fulfil psychological ones and are selected in line with my philosophical needs, and so on. No way to untangle them, and no real desire to either.

I want to be a better fencer, that’s a nice simple, practical goal. I’m not too fussed about being a wrestler, donning full harness or learning mounted combat. The question then is how do I judge being better and I suggest a few criteria:

  • I want to feel confident with the weapons I choose to learn
  • I want to know that I am an Historical Fencer, who uses historical techniques
  • I want enjoy at least some competitive success

There are two threads that will allow me to reach these goals; study/practice/training and competition. If I study techniques, practice them and then train their use in sparring, then I should build my confidence, especially if I am able to make them work!.

A saber

Being an Historical Fencer is a little more slippery. I am sure I’ve addressed this somewhere else in this blog so I won’t get bogged down too much. What I really mean is that I want to know that my techniques are approaching the ones described in the treatises and manuals, that I win through the application of those skills and that I don’t overly ‘game’ sparring/competition rules to succeed.

So, if I enter the odd tournament and win a few bouts, maybe get through to the eliminations and make use of ‘real’ techniques in the doing of it, then I would consider my last practical two goals achieved.

Philosophically, I have long been focussed on self-improvement, widening my experiences of the world, authenticity and the existential belief that what we are at now is all there is, so we might as well enjoy it whilst we can. I’m not a hedonist but I don’t want to be leaving to many deathbed regrets behind!

When applied to historical fencing it’s fairly clear that the self-improvement and gaining experiences is served pretty well from training and competition. Being authentic means saying true to my own wants. I don’t need to always win to be happy ( it does cheer me up from time to time though), I don’t need to be more intense that the next fencer to feel like I’m a proper fighter. My desires and their fulfilment come from my own authentic self and that is all. “To thine own self be true” is a bit of a motto for me.

The trick is actually living this way and I will just list my current frustrations, in a cathartic rush:

  • I don’t feel confident with longsword any more.
  • What passes as my ‘technique’ with LS feels like a lot of opportunistic flailing at times.
  • I haven’t the attention to detail or attention span to properly analyse, let alone repair, the bad habits and failings I’ve developed.
  • I always promise myself that I will start doing drills, either “ at next week’s club night” or “when I get back from work, one day this week” and I never do!
  • When I lose or don’t qualify I cannot help but feel a knock to my ego (the one I said doesn’t matter just there a minute ago, you know)
  • I sometimes feel that ‘practice’ is just me grinding up against the immovable barrier of my own mediocrity. Self-improvement is just a myth and I will never be as good as all those fencers who swagger around with shiny medals, expensive gear, youtube channels and the glamour of the international tournament scene.


Well now that is said I can look at the real point of this post, as far as it can be described as having one…

What I have described above is an example of the duality the human condition. On one hand we want to be our best selves, we want it not to matter when we lose or we honestly and truly want to drill until we are perfect and only score points with Meisterhauen to deep targets with exact edge alignment. On the other we are the ones who take the lazy hand-snipes when they’re available, we slump into the sofa after sitting at a desk all day and tell ourselves we ‘deserve a rest’ and who mentally scream and shout when they get knocked out by another fencer who doesn’t deserve it as much as we do (despite being quite obviously better than we are).

This might not be the greatest technique but it did feel good…

There’s nothing wrong with holding both those trains of thought and them both being equally true. We are BOTH these things and I think the important thing to do is condition ourselves to get the best out of it. Don’t be too harsh when we fail. Ok, we need to be strong and avoid forming long-term negative patterns; but don’t brow beat yourself for minor weaknesses and transitory failings.

Next, reward and congratulate yourself when you do work on living up to the high ideals. Reinforce the positive behaviours from the inside as if you where training an inner puppy. I’m no psychologist but there is sub-dividing of our selves and one of them is well able to hand out little pats on the heads when we get it right. We should allow that shard of personality to do its job and slowly build a better us.

Train the inner puppy…

We should take the time to examine our motivations, be honest with at least ourselves about them and then decide how we can best serve them. It is also worth taking a look at the motivations and seeing if they best serve us. If we say we are motivated by a desire for self-improvement but then never work on improving are we being authentic? If we say we don’t need to win and then abandon historical technique to win at all cost or get angry and dangerous when an exchange goes against us, are we being true to ourselves? Desire for competitive success isn’t a bad thing, it can be our entire motivation and there’s nothing wrong with it. What isn’t productive is deluding ourselves about what we want. If you do that you will never get what you need.

Well that’s my lot for today. I hope you enjoyed this little insight into my HEMA life. Please share this around as knowing people are reading my posts motivates me to do more, better posting. You can comment below or reach me on the Wrathful Peasants page.


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