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Original posted 4 October 2014

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.

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Original article: 15 September 2014

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.
Translation by Claudia Krause
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 members 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 …


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Original article:  4 September 2014

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. 

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Original article 22 August

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

9  . 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.
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Original article 19 August 2014

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 others’ 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!

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Original post: 25 July 2014

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.

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Original article:  18 Jul 2014

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

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Original Post: 5 Jul 2014

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 arts. T-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”…at 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.

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Original Post: 29 Jun 2014

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!

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Original Post: 16 Jun 2014

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