HEMA Thoughts: Armor or Unarmored

As I’ve noted before, I don’t think the swordplay aspects of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) has much real-world applicability. But it’s also cool as hell.

With that in mind, I see myself using it as a pretty important part of my training going forward.

While looking into groups, I found that my closest group–a couple within reasonable driving range for the occasional class–does things a little different than most. They place an emphasis on the historical nature of things, including fighting in armor.

That led me to ask, “Do I want to fool with armored fighting?”

Now, I’m not going to delve into the advantages and disadvantages of each style. I’m a neophyte HEMA practitioner. I’m in no position to offer such opinions.

However, I am in a position to offer my own thoughts on what I happen to think looks appealing.

The Aesthetics Of Typical HEMA

One big turn-off for me with HEMA is the modern nature of the equipment. Fencing masks make sense, of course, and I have no issue with any of the protective equipment being used.

In fact, it makes sense. These arts were for killing, and even if you’re not using a sharp weapon, it seems perfectly plausible that injury is a real probability. Wear protection.

However, I’ve been horribly turned off by the modern and uniform look of it. Honestly, it just doesn’t look all that appealing to me. Why? Because my background includes SCA heavy weapons combat. If you’re not familiar with it, we used rattan sticks to simulate swords, wore armor, and beat the snot out of each other.

like armor. I’ve always been fascinated by it.

More to the point, though, I’ve been outright turned off by the plastic, sterile nature of modern HEMA protection. There’s no style to it. It’s all black, plastic, and blah.

Yes, it matters

I really think people need to be passionate about their activities, and while just swinging a sword is plenty for a lot of people, some want their equipment to express a bit about who they are as people.

HEMA has adopted black fencing jackets to such an almost universal degree that finding other colors is difficult.

As a result, it’s difficult for people to recognize different fighters from one another.

Maybe it’s just me, but I want to stand out. I want to be unique and for my family to spot me on a field of fighters. If it was easier to find normal HEMA gear that I could get excited about, it would probably be a moot point, but it’s not.

So yeah, it matters.

Plus, I like armor

Back in my SCA days, the one area I really focused on was armor. I didn’t particularly care about economics, farming techniques, the role the Church played in everyday life, none of that crap. I wanted to study and reproduce the armor of the day.

It was my passion, and I could prattle on about it for hours and hours.

The last time I explored involvement in HEMA, I’d seen some armored fighters going at it. This was long before the Armored Combat League stuff was floating around the internet, too, so it wasn’t that.

No, these were HEMA practitioners, and it was awesome.

When I started looking at HEMA again–thanks again, DAVE!–I started looking and wondering what happened to those guys. It wasn’t all that long ago when I last looked, after all.

There are other factors, for me

Yep. There are.

As I mentioned, the one organization with groups somewhat nearby–close enough that I could drive there occasionally–are part of a group that takes a more historical focus of their fighting. They still fight and fight hard, but they also do the whole armor thing.

That group is Schola Saint George.

Plus, they use a belt-system similar to eastern martial arts for denoting where someone is in their progress. I can see this as being useful because it makes it easy to know who to ask for advice. Sometimes, a novice can talk a big game, after all.

Additionally, because of where I’m located, I’ll need to do a lot of training on my own. Well, me and the family since my eldest spawn wants to learn it too, and the wife has expressed interest as well. (That’s actually enough to form a local study group, actually).  Either way, they seem well-positioned to offer assistance to my training as well as support for finding others to beat upon and who will beat upon me in return.

Believe me, that matters.

So, armored or unarmored HEMA?

Luckily, I don’t really have to pick. But I can do armored HEMA, which I really want to do anyway.

Plus, I’ll have an excuse to start making armor again for the first time in forever. Now I have to see if I remember how.

But for you? Well, that’s your call. Everyone has to find their own path, after all, so train as you wish and learn as you wish. It’s not like any of us will be needing to swordfight in the coming years, now is it?

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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