A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Novel Exercises for Historical European Martial Arts

I made this article since there is more to HEMA than reading treatises and book learning and one of those is to get your body into shape so you can apply your academic learning in a martial fashion. I won’t go into widely available basics but instead, I will go into a few suggestions that are a bit unusual with the primary goal to be to increase grip and arm strength while being a bit lazy or while doing other activities for the busy among us.

At the end I have some suggestions provided on Facebook and HEMA specific drills and exercises from youtube.

Starting off with one of my favorite tools is the spinner:

NSD Power AutoStart Spinner is the “Featured image” for this post because it is super cool and it is what I have. There are more expensive versions and cheaper ones than the one I linked to but this is the best bang for your buck. This is an exercising tool utilized heavily by golfers who want to build dense and dextrous forearm muscles just like we do. It is fun and easy to use. It is also used by people to help with carpal tunnel and tendonitis. There are many different brands and versions. Below is a “Powerball” model review from a hockey player but the basic concepts apply.

Kettlebells are can be very useful. Be careful getting started and don’t buy a cheap one unless you’re ready for a heavy metal ball go flying in a random direction should a handle break. Get one that is all one piece without any welding or anything that might hide any welding marks. If you can get started with an instructor at least one time before you do anything crazy or weird with this as you can injure yourself if your form stinks. I don’t have one myself but messed around with one back in high school.

The Gripmaster Hand Exerciser is useful for building individual finger, hand, and wrist strength and is another thing you can do maybe at work or while reading. There are many different variations and brands to choose from. Most have a set level of resistance but a few have resistance that is variable which is useful if you are using this to recover from a hand injury and building back up your strength. The video below is for guitar and bass players that I used many years ago when I played both. He has some suggestions on different exercises.

Agility Ladders are really useful for building up your lower legs and helping you become more cognizant of your footwork. Some allow you to move the bars to different lengths and hook up extra ladders or miscellaneous items to make a little obstacle course. This can help when you are trying to do solo drills and need to force yourself to think outside of the linear box common to kendo and modern olympic fencing. Taking advantage of traversing and sidesteps are an important part of your martial art toolset.

Resistance bars are great for recovery and are designed to help with tennis elbow which can plague a swordsman as well. The brand I linked to rates the resistance by color so be careful picking one that is appropriate for you. They also are very good at improving grip strength. There are a lot of different exercises out there that use these flexbars for different issues so be sure to look up different exercises or invent your own just don’t break your wrist.

Battle Ropes are a lot of fun and help out with building both your arms but also your core and is a very inexpensive way to get a full body workout. It will wear you out as muscles you rarely use flare up and make sure you’re paying attention. Start with a few basics and build your way up. I recommend starting at 1.5 inch and 40 feet if you’re not in fantastic shape which is what I have.

Balance Pads are very good for improving your balance and building your lower leg strength and tone. They will help your footwork and if you’re anything like me you probably need the help.

Gravity Fitness Stretch Strap is good for helping increase your flexibility and range of motion. If you’re going to be practicing lunges a lot this might be useful for you.

Medicine Balls allow for a whole series of great exercises that you can do while watching your favorite show lying on the couch. There are more movements you can do in a more serious fashion such as using a medicine ball like it was a sword or a basketball and making a motion as close to as you can to an oberhau and sending the ball to a wall for example if it is the type that bounces. This can build up your explosive “punch-like” force you need for martial arts. There are many types and weights to choose from. The link above goes to my medicine ball which is a middling size and weight and great value for the price. Most gyms these days have medicine balls so you can try them out and find one that works for you.

Resistance bands are great for practicing lunges and footwork as well as increasing leg and hip strength while you’re sitting at your desk if you have them on your feet.

Forearm Exerciser is great for building strength while binge-watching your favorite show.

Captains of Crush Grippers are expensive for grippers but are well made and will push your hand strength probably more than anything else if you use two or three models. I have a Trainer which is easy to close and a #1 which takes some work to close. Traditionally you’d have a third gripper which you can’t close that you work on occasionally. Give yourself breaks with this as you can push yourself too far very easily.

Suggestions from Facebook:

Shanee Nishry’s website showcases her exercise regime of about 30 minutes a day of Meÿer Square / Cutting Diagram Longsword drills. Check it out.

Susan Kirk mentioned that Indian Clubs can really help with both strengthening arms and shoulders as well as helping flexibility of wrists, elbows, and shoulders. It is great for both balancing out muscles on the left and right sides as well as improving coordination.

Indian Clubs at Purpleheart Armoury.

Incline Steel Club is on sale and it is nice for doing exercises when inside though I find I use my kettlebells far more.

Solo HEMA Drills and Exercises:

If this doesn’t get your newbie muscles burning quickly you’re either in great shape or doing it wrong!

This drill gives you something extra to do by forcing you to change directions while swinging your sword. Footwork is my greatest weakness I think so try this or variations of this out.

Blood and Iron is a great resource.

Matt has quite a few different solo drills on his site. I like this one and the ones he made when his right hand was injured.

This flow exercise has some direction changes and good practice for attacks from the Italian Longsword perspective.

 

 

 

When I got my buckler I instantly thought that it might be a great tool for low weight reps while watching videos on my PC. I do punches, moulinets (using the handle like it is a hilt), and windshield wiping wrist rotations. You easily do hundreds of reps while being a couch potato and if you already have the buckler it doesn’t cost anything extra. Below are some great exercises the guys at Sword Carolina made to use your buckler with.

 

My other essays:

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Websites to Buy Swords and Equipment

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Tournaments

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Historical European Martial Arts

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: One Year Anniversary Update Post on Historical European Martial Arts

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: My HEMA Loadout and Wishlist

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A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Tournament Ready and Training Ready Standards

 

(Edit) It seems that this topic is unpopular. I approached this topic as someone familiar with patents, copyright, and creating standards.

From that pov I see issues like Combatcon’s equipment recommendations allowing modified lacrosse gloves, no shin protection, and with the only stated requirement of a mask being behind the head protection. I have read a lot of equipment rules for tournaments and they are often vague and ambiguous. Also, looking at equipment on retailer websites there is a dearth of info. Most clubs seem to be very insular using the same stuff they’ve been using from the start rather than a mix of goods. Part of this is a reluctance to lay down good money on something they aren’t sure of or confident in.

I would suggest an approach to making these standards as something like this:

I would test protective gear with a broken feder that has splintered leaving a sharp edge or for standardization sake three or four different thrusting and cutting sharps using a machine with a test dummy with the protective gear in question. This machine would hit the gear with an ever increasing amount of force let’s say start at 100N and go up a 100N each time noting the point when damage begins and the point when the protection is penetrated.

Then I would go through all the different major makers of the gear in question. I would then compare them and plot out the standard deviations and compare that quantized information to qualitative information from actual HEMA experts.

I would then try and measure the typical amount of force used by a trainee during practice using the typical weapons in HEMA and compare that to the piercing point/breaking point/cutting point of the gear. I would then get a set of average strikes from a dozen random tournament contestants. Then I would get the hardest hitters and try and guestimate the maximum force a HEMA defender is likely to ever get hit with and correlate that with the different tested gear.

By combining the quantitative analysis of how the gear handles piercing, blunt, and slashing hits from sharp weapons and maybe even a mace or staff along with broken weapons with expert qualitative advice you can get a rough idea of training quality, tournament ready, and tournament approved gear.

That way you can also rate gear for Longsword, Staff, rapier, arming sword etc. A Longsword training level jacket might be tough enough to be tournament ready for a saber for example.

Once you have those standards than the makers of the gear can then go back and beef up their gear or drop it down a bit to provide a cheaper but still quality product. If a jacket maker could make a safe but minimal product for entry level at a low price point without sacrificing too much quality than they make money and more new people get into HEMA.

Then once the enthusiast gets some practice and wants to go compete they can make the choice of getting gear that is very good and ready for tournament level play or they can go to the max and get gear that is overkill and very high quality meeting the highest standards in the industry because there will now be standards.

(/edit)

So, as a novice I’ve been reading a lot about HEMA and coming from an outside viewpoint it is a bit confusing and a lot of things are ambiguous with a lot of regional variation. This naturally emerges from a bottom up structure run by a number of very individualistic people who can bonk you on the head with steel if they disagree with you!
If my ideas have already been beaten around to death I apologize. I’m sure the elders of the tribe keep seeing the newbies saying the same thing over and over.

Anyway, it occurred to me that a way to both help the merchants who sell and the people who make gear for the HEMA enthusiast and to help people make informed decisions when buying gear it seems obvious to me that there should be set/s of standards for different types of activities for training and tournaments.

When I buy a video game I see a set of minimum requirements and recommended requirements which give me a rough idea what kind of PC I need to have to run the game. They usually err on the side of caution for minimum requirements and overkill for the recommended.

Rather than having a deeply piecemeal and haphazard approach to each tournament having different gear accepted and having the fear that your gear which was good enough for a tournament in Chicago but not accepted in Denver it seems to me that there are many organizations in HEMA and more importantly many Tournament Leagues.

Imagine if you will a swordmaker able to put on his website “Midwest Historical Fencing League Tournament Ready Feder” and\or “HEMA Alliance Tournament Ready Sidesword.”

Another approach is for the manufacturer’s to get together to make a standard. This placates those who prefer to avoid any appearance of an overarching “federation”.

If the dozen or so makers of masks for example made a tournament ready and a tournament recommended standard for HEMA and all followed it than the buyer would know better what they are getting versus relying on Cen 1 and 2 which help but aren’t perfect with most of the other gear lacking even that nebulous quantifiable standard.

Imagine a poor quality gorget NOT being able to have any official HEMA stamp of approval so some new person doesn’t buy it trying to save money and get hurt badly.

The customer (us) could be confident that the gear they are buying is not only good for their league but it is also tested and approved by their HEMA organization. This would make makers of quality equipment have an easier time selling gear as doubt would be removed. Your only choice now is to ask around your club and look up the occasional youtube review, blog,  or the handful of reviews at Measure and Weigh.

Also, having standards would make it easier for new makers to enter the market. If a feder needs to be between x length and y length, use m through g quality metal, have x flex, and weigh between c and g weight to be tournament approved than having clear standards would improve the quality of our gear and help the manufacturers know what they need to provide to hit any HEMA requirements.

You could have let’s say the red dragon gloves be “Longsword Training Ready for Prairies Historical Fencing League” which tells the buyer that the gloves are okay for practicing or training but in the long run they will need to get better gear or just skip them to gear that is approved.

A pair of fencing gloves could be “Rapier and Saber Training Ready for HEMAA” and a jacket could be the same letting the buyer know that the jacket isn’t approved or ready for Longsword Training so they don’t hurt themselves through ignorance and are educated about what works for one type of HEMA practice or tournament.

You could even have “Ready” and “Approved” as tiers of quality as well. So, a new Regenyei Feder could be “HEMA Ireland Tournament Approved” while a low end feder that is still solid but not great could get “HEMA Ireland Tournament Ready” while a truly mediocre feder but not a bad or dangerous one could get “HEMA Ireland Training Ready” tag. Take the guesswork out of buying the goods. Take the guesswork for the poor people who have to look through all this gear and be the jerk that tells someone that they can’t participate or even worse feel sorry for them and let them participate in an event in which they get hurt!

Take the guesswork out of buying the goods. Take the guesswork for the poor people working or volunteering at HEMA tournaments who have to look through all this gear and be the jerk that tells someone that they can’t participate or even worse feel sorry for them and let them participate in an event in which they end up hurt!

A way this could really benefit is in gear that we appropriate from other sports like arm or shin protection. If we could go to Adidas and say “your shin protection is great so we would like you to market it as a soccer AND HEMA shinguard.” That way if they did that a soccer player could come across a shin guard and sees the HEMA logo and wonders “What’s that?” and looks us up. If they do that and see it is approved to take sword strikes that puts a lot of confidence that it will take a set of cleats. This would increase attention to HEMA and make it easier to find quality gear.

And by having each league and each member of the HEMA Alliance make decisions on gear approval it might help move regional products into the global market while protecting each leagues autonomy. Say you’re a jacket manufacturer with great quality and fair price but you’re in X country and you want to get some exposure you could send a jacket to each league you’re interested in for them to test it out. If you have a good product not only are you going to get your jacket listed by that league or group as approved you could have them review the gear and word of mouth means a lot. If an instructor says “this jacket is amazing” how many students who respect them might think about picking up that jacket that wouldn’t otherwise look for a foreign made and formerly unknown product?

Say you’re a jacket manufacturer with great quality and fair price but you’re in X country and you want to get some exposure you could send a jacket to a couple of leagues you’re interested in for them to test it out. If you have a good product not only are you going to get your jacket listed by that league or group as approved you could have them review the gear online and word of mouth is a very powerful tool. If an instructor says “this jacket is amazing” how many students who respect them might think about picking up that jacket that wouldn’t otherwise look for a foreign made and formerly unknown product? We get better gear and more choices in that gear and the merchant sells more. Win-win in my book.

It also might be useful to have a model or version number on gear. Say a 800N Jacket type Y v2 2015 by X. That way if there happens to be a bad version or model than the league and the manufacturer can alert its customers about it and there can be a caveat and it is clear what type of jacket is being discussed for those manufacturers who make more than one type of the same product.

By having a version history and easy tracking of how that product has performed we can take a more scientific approach to safety and quality control. I know that the Konig Gloves have gone through different permutations so it would be nice if for example a tag said version 4 2016 just in case there was a safety issue with one version anyone who had the glove could just take a look and see if they needed to worry.

Check out my other blog posts in this series with more to come:

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Websites to Buy Swords and Equipment

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Tournaments

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Historical European Martial Arts

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Websites to Buy Swords and Equipment

Websites that sell equipment are listed below by continent and by the nation. Feel free to comment to add more sites that I’ve missed.

My original post A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Historical European Martial Arts kept on growing so I decided to break it up into smaller more focused posts such as this one. In the year since I started, I’ve updated things further with a One Year Anniversary Update Post.

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Tournaments has some advice for buying equipment appropriate for tournament bouts along with the actual requirements that each of the tournaments has for sword and equipment quality. As always your best bet is to ask questions either to instructors or clubmates or on the WMA Reddit or HEMA Forums for the suitability of a given retailer or manufacturer.

This blog post is now listed here and at the Reddit Online HEMA Resources (r/HEMA) page which has an excellent collection of links for the HEMA and WMA enthusiast.

Aidan Blake’s Google Docs is a primary resource to use when looking at buying gear: HEMA Protective Gear Research and HEMA Training Weapon Research.

For sabres this Collection of Saber Measurements may help you out in deciding what kind of sabre you want to get and what options you might have available depending on the style of sabre you want to practice and compete with.

When buying your gear you’re going to want to look at whether you’re getting it for self-practice, training with mates at various levels of intensity, the type of weapon you’re training with, and/or if you’re planning to eventually go to a tournament with that weapon.

The approved protective gear you will need for longsword will need to have sterner protections than that of other blossfechten weapon types such as rapier or sabre then singlestick with unarmed Ringen, glima, or pugilism needing the least.

For a look at my gear and books check out: A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: My HEMA Loadout and Wishlist.

Typical tournaments look at having a 3 weapon mask with back of the head protection, a heavy jacket or gambeson for longsword or lighter one for other weapons, heavy gloves for longsword like Spes Clamshells, Koning, Sparring Gloves, and Neyman to name a few or for lighter weapons the Red Dragons are popular or various padded leather gloves, some sort of hard or padded elbow protection, hard knee protection, groin for men, plastron for women, and a gorget or throat protector. I would highly recommend shin and forearm protection regardless of weapon but some tournaments don’t require them.

Commonly for practice steel longswords/feders, you will see approval based on the maker such as  Regenyei, Danelli, Castille Armoury, Darkwood Armory, Ensifer, Chlebowski, Albion, Arms and Armor, SGT Blades, Black Horse, and Pavel Moc.

For steel rapier and sabre Danelli is highly regarded and in America, Darkwood Armory and Castille Armoury are probably most popular of the high-end market with Del Tin and Arms And Armor. Hanwei has a approval as an okay entry level but as of writing this the longsword/feders are not considered safe for tournament level intensity.

Synthetics tend to be dominated by Purpleheart Armoury in America and Black Fencer in Europe for the higher end and the Red Dragon/Hema Shop Rawlings in the UK as bargain weapons. For singlestick in the states, most people get Purplehearts leather baskets or make their own SCA style.

This site is an Amazon affiliate site that can help you find HEMA Gear on Amazon and I believe in the future other sites and in your country if possible HEMA4U.

A popular website for buying sharp swords and various re-enactor gear that ships all over the world is Kult of Athena.

Europe:

UK and Ireland:

Danelli Armouries (Beautiful swords with long wait list)

Leon Paul

The HEMA Shop

The Knight Shop

Corsairs Wares

Paul Binns Swords

James G Elmslie Custom Replicas

Feestspada Armoury

Tod’s Stuff

Old Shillelagh

Germany:

Trainingsschwerter

Allstar International

Sword Experts

VB Sword Shop

Die Seelenschmie (Swords)

Poland:

Sparring Gloves  Sparring Gloves Facebook

SPES Historical Fencing Gear

Neyman Fencing

Comfort Fencing

Silk Fencing (Synthetics)

PBT Polska

Szymonchlebowski (Swords)

Ensifer (Swords)

Art of Swordmaking by Maciej Koupciuch

Mateusz Sulowski Swords

Bloss for Hemaists

Czech:

Mac Arms (Swords)

Swords (C.K. Kowarna)

Elgur (Swords)

Kovex Ars

Lutel Armoury

Armory Marek

Fabri Armorum

Switzerland:

Fechtwaffen Shop (Pretty much everything is here)

Spain:

Black Fencer

The Time Seller

Grant Esgrima

Arcensis

Costumbres Medievales

Hungary:

PBT Historical Fencing

Regenyei (Swords!)

Viktor Berbekucz (Swords)

Austria:

Swordbag

France:

Black Armoury (Full selection of feders and gear)

Faits d’Armes

Le Colporteur de l’histoire (Jackets, masks, rawlings, and regenyei’s)

South Fencing

Sport 7

Gael Fabre (Swordsmith)

Italy:

Gajardoni (Lajalo) (Air Masks and fine quality jackets and breeches. Ships internationally) Disclosure: I am a customer.

Negrini

Del Tin (Tin Ancient Weapon)

Thokk WeaponMaster Gauntlets (indiegogo)

Sweden:

Saint Mark (Koning Gloves)

Denmark:

Gladius

Finland:

Miekkailutarvike

Netherlands:

Zwaard En Volk

Pro Gauntlet (HEMA Gauntlet in Alpha Stage of Production)

Russia:

Hema Fencing

FoxTail Equipment

Slovenia:

Krsticic Swords

North America:

Canada:

Darksword Armory

Dark Age Creations

SGT Blades

USA:

HEMA Supplies (We currently import Regenyei Armoury swords and Sparring Gloves.)

Arms n Armor

Albion Swords

Southcoastswords (Blackfencer Synthetics in USA)

SPES Historical Fencing Gear (USA)

Leon Paul (USA)

Absolute Force

Baltimore Knife and Sword

Wild Geese Fencing (Steel Swords)

Horsebows (Archery and Masks)

Blade Fencing Equipment (fencingnewyork.com)

Freelance Academy Press (Books!)

Woodenswords: Purpleheart Armoury (Pentii Synthetics and Ensifer Feders)

South Coast Swords

Wasson Artistry Fine Armor

That Guy’s (Beautiful looking Gorgets)

Destroyer Modz (Gorget and Mask Mods)

Winter Tree Crafts (Gorget)

Valiant Armoury

Black Horse Blades

Castille Armory

Alchem (Swords Wholesaler)

Benjamin Arms (Swords)

Zen Warrior Armory (SCA and Fencing)

Arms & Armor (Swords)

Swordsman’s Shop (smallsword)

Rockwell Classical Fencing (Foil, Saber, and Epee)

Triplette Competition Arms (Sports Fencing)

Hanwei (Swords)

Darkwood Armory

Piranha Gear (Fencing Gloves and Gorget)

CAS Iberia

New Stirling Arms (Wooden Wasters)

Little Raven (Wooden Wasters)

Sword Equip (HEMA Gear and swords by Szymon Chlebowski)

Therion Arms (Export and Import Globally Weapons and Armor)

Armstreet (a multinational garb and armor seller)

Revival (Medieval Garb and HEMA Gear)

Windrose Armoury

Age of Craft

Armour And Castings

Cold Steel

Swords of Might HEMA Gear

Asia:

China:

Wukusi

Australia:

Medieval Fight Club

WMA Shop

Leon Paul Australia

Eureka HEMA Supplies

Manning Imperial

 

Miscellaneous:

HEMA Leather Crafts on Facebook (gorget, baldrics, and belts)

HEMA Professional Market on Facebook

USA HEMA Marketplace on Facebook

HEMA Marketplace on Facebook

Peter Johnsson on Facebook (Swordsmith) Personal website is down.

Cavalier Attitude (The Rapier Bag)

High Hill Pants (Fancy hema fencing pants)

Wild Armoury (Armor)

Lukas Maestlegoer Swordmaker

FEESTSPADA (custom made swords and daggers)

 

Other Blog posts by me:

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Websites to Buy Swords and Equipment

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Tournaments

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Historical European Martial Arts

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: One Year Anniversary Update Post on Historical European Martial Arts

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Novel Exercises for Historical European Martial Arts

A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: My HEMA Loadout and Wishlist