Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Re-Inventing the Wheel


There are questions which are going to be asked about this particular post, like what is he on about? That is simple. There is the propensity for the Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) community for re-inventing the wheel rather than taking perfectly good examples of things and either just using them or modifying them slightly to suit their purposes. This post will give three examples which seem to keep coming up as issues for the community which have been dealt with elsewhere before.


Why is it that in HEMA people seem to need to keep re-inventing the wheel? It is almost like that what has come before is just not good enough, or because it comes from another sport, or similar area and they do not want to be like them that they cannot use anything which is anything like them. There are three topics which have histories which are established which could be used as they are, or modified to purpose, yet they are not. This is, of course, causing people issues and in some cases injuries as a result because people are doing the hard work that has been done before all over again.


Armour has been around for literally thousands of years, yet when it comes to HEMA rather than looking at existing examples of armour and simply copying it or modifying the armour to suit, new armour has to be invented. The great saga of the gauntlet is the greatest example of this one that can be put up as a prime example. There were fully-articulate gauntlets manufactured and used in the medieval and Renaissance period. Why are they not just copied? Or at least the principles of their designs not copied? Its not like they did not work.

What I find really amusing about this one is that people in HEMA have been cobbling together protective gear from other sports or designing it based on other sports, and then realising that it has holes in it, which are not covered. Then these holes are being covered by examples which are found on medieval and Renaissance armours. Knee protection first just covered the front of the knee for HEMA, now it seems that fans are being added to protect the sides and give some protection to the back of the knee, which are, of course, found on medieval and Renaissance knee cops. Why go through the effort of having to find out what does not work when we already know what does?

Armour Standards

When it comes to the question of protective gear, each club or organisation will have their own ideas about what will be required for their own people. Obviously it will be dependent on the weapon that is being used, i.e. more will be required for doing longsword than smallsword. What is a little silly is that for the most part these standards are created on the spot from what the individuals think is reasonable. There is in existence an armour standard, for rapier at least, which has been around since at least the late 1990s which is an international standard, that being used by the Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA).

Why not start with this and then add on to it? Obviously it is effective, and all of the hard work has already been done. Seems that some would rather not want to be in anyway associated with the group than use a standard which is known and works, which is ridiculous. Instead these people would rather go through the trials and issues of finding out what works and what doesn't, which puts their members at risk.


There has been a lot of discussion about how tournaments should be judged, whether one referee should be used and four linesmen, or one senior referee and one junior and two linesmen, or some other combination. My particular preference is to teach the combatants to call their own blows, I mean they are the ones receiving them so they would know the best if they have been hit or not. Some of this has started to filter into competitions and gradually it is beginning to hold some sway.

Again what we see is the HEMA community trying to re-invent the wheel when there is a system already available for them to use. This system is found in non-electric sport fencing. There is a presiding judge and one for each fencer. The presiding watches both competitors the others only watch their one fencer for a hit and indicate when theirs has been hit. Again, it is a recognised method with a recognised standard. It also results in using only three people and not four or five people to staff it, which has advantages when the staff are primarily volunteers.


Three different areas have been examined where standards or examples are have already been established, and yet in all three cases the HEMA community is trying to invent their own. The question has to be at this point in time, why? Is it an ego thing? Not willing to accept that maybe it has been done before? Or not willing to borrow from another group and thus admit that they may have some good ideas? Both of these are ridiculous reasons not to use ideas or standards used by another group and modify them to suit what is required. In most instances in the HEMA community, there is probably already an answer out there to the question which has been posed, it is a matter of finding the answer, and accepting that it is the answer. For some, it is the last bit that is the most difficult.