I’ve a shameful admission. I’ve got a medieval-style fantasy novel coming out next year and I don’t even know how to swing a sword. You read that right. I spent a year writing a character who wields a rapier and the most real world experience I’ve had of that is holding a replica around someone’s house one time. Oh, and stick fights in the playground.
I’ve done what I could to counter my ignorance. Afternoon-long Wikipedia dives for instance, or watching Youtube channels like the excellent Schola Gladiatoria. But the sense that I was a faker, a film-flam man, a damnable mouth-and-no-trousers vendor always gnawed at me.
So when I saw that Leicester Longpoint, a local HEMA group, were holding a beginners session I leaped at the chance (and roped my pal and fellow fantasy author Phil Irving along too).
HEMA-who’-wah’? It stands for Historical European Martial Arts. Beginning as a small group of people in the 1990s trying to reconstruct fighting methods from the surviving medieval and Renaissance training manuals its grown into a worldwide community. Until now I hadn’t heard of a HEMA gathering in the Leicester area (not since the battle of Bosworth at any rate) and it seems Leicester Longpoint have recently raised the banner.
Everyone was very friendly and enthusiastic. We were twenty strangers in a big, airy, COVID-aware space: a school sports hall (One definitely a step up from the last school sports hall I was in in that it didn’t contain PE teacher Mr Cunningham, whose nickname it would be impolite, nay libellous, to repeat in print). Our lead instructor–I think his name was Matt (UPDATE: No! It was Dave! So sorry!)–was really interesting and enthusiastic. He taught us the basics of German longsword–the stances and such–as taught by the school of 15th century sword master Sigmund Ringeck.
The rest of the session we mainly hit each other, which was very much what we came for of course. I can assure you we all wore protective face masks (y’know, like the ones in kendo and fencing) and when a plastic longsword hit my head it did so with a very comfortable and satisfying thunk.
The German longsword is a hefty two-handed weapon (Though not the sword in the photo at the top of this post. That’s the even larger zweihander) and while I won’t go into much detail of it’s use–far better people like Leicester Longpoint do—I will say that gravity is both your best friend and your worst critic when you come to wield it. Anyway, by the end of two hours I felt confident enough that, though I almost certainly would lose to a trained knight of the period, I could’ve easily silenced a mouthy peasant, perhaps even one armed with a pewter tankard.
Will I go regularly? I’d certainly like to. Trouble is, as with every evening school thing that’s tempted me, my work gets in the way. I do night shifts every two weeks and so paying monthly fee (which in this case is very good, all things considered) gets me a fortnight’s bang for my buck. Hopefully things will change at my workplace soon or, heck, maybe I’ll go for it anyway. I’m going to have to go away and think. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for more one-off sessions should they turn up.
But, hey, mission accomplished. I’ve got a better grip on sword fighting than I did before and I’m fairly sure I can apply it to future writing. If you’re a historical and/or fantasy writer you could do a lot worse for yourself than go along to a HEMA event. That’s for sure.