This is a work in progress built from my original A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Historical European Martial Arts post that I decided to spin off into its own page as the Guide is far larger now than I had initially intended and has become a little unwieldy like a Montante in the hands of a five-year-old.
As a novice, I have decided to try my best to make these guides to help people learn more about HEMA who don’t have the time or inclination to search and research for hours on the web and to try and distill what I’ve read into something easy to understand. Often things get lost in translation when dealing with topics outside of your understanding and experience. The experts know everything basic so will often use shorthand or gloss over things that you as the newbie have no clue about leading to misunderstandings and frustration.
If you would like me to add your Tournament just add a comment below.
If you’re going to run a tournament or help out a great new tool added in July 2018 a few years after I wrote this article was made by Sean Franklin allowing easy access to your performance data as a fencer so you can see how you did during an event. I still don’t know even most of the people I’ve fenced with and what the scores were because when you’re bouncing between an assault and then judging and then filming or lunch it really does become a blur. Check it out here: HEMA Scorecard.
Another great website to check out if you’re interested in tournament rules is Swiss HEMA’s Rules Survey.
Some tournaments require tips on your blades of leather and tape or blunts. The Arnold Classic uses white tape in order to help judges see thrusts against the ubiquitous black jackets and gear.
Given that tournaments often require or appreciate help during the events it can be really useful to take the time to understand how to judge and familiarize yourself with the tournament rules so you can perform better as you’ll optimize your fencing strategies to the tournament environment. If you’re creating a tournament it can be useful to decide how you’re going to set up your judges and how much power you’ll be giving them. Martin Fabian wrote an interesting article about how less can be more here: 2 IS MORE THAN 4 – ON THE STATE OF JUDGING IN HEMA COMPETITIONS.
Tournaments are a chance to test your mettle against opponents from outside your club. This is very important in order to avoid and detect weaknesses that might have developed unnoticed by the fellow fencers you practice with and to become exposed to different styles and ways of fencing.
A new site called HEMA Ratings has setup rankings and scores for over a thousand fighters from all over the world with different weapons including Longsword, rapier, sabre, singlestick, sword and buckler, and sidesword. So, after you compete at your first acceptable tournament you can watch your score and rank change as you become a better fighter and get more experience fighting new people.
Afterblow (HEMA Competition News) is starting in 2017 and will have a whole slew of useful information about Tournaments which will be something to look forward to next year.
This HEMA Alliance Events Page just soft-launched which is wonderful.
It is also worth knowing that there are Leagues of HEMA which can make going to multiple tournaments in a region have a new dimension of complexity.
Historical Fencing Event Notification Page on Facebook is another resource.
Tournaments are different in that the rules are more formal than bouts at your club or with friends and each one will have different equipment requirements depending on the type of bout from Longsword to Ringen. This is important to keep in mind as swords and gear preferred or allowed at one tournament may be forbidden at another. So make sure you consider this when you are making your expensive choices on gear. These requirements may also hint at the quality or lack of quality of different equipment.
They may also have different rules in adjudicating a bout so it would be wise before a tournament to have some practice bouts using those rules in the weeks proceeding a tournament. This applies even if you are not planning to go as it is good to be flexible in your fighting. Different rules may encourage different optimized behavior by a fencer. If the tournament penalizes heavily double hits than you will want to prepare for that while sports fencing often encourages unhealthy defensive habits because of the rules of engagement.
An article worth reading If You Practice HEMA, You Should Be Competing in Tournaments.
General takeaways applicable to many tournaments for equipment needed for Longsword are a Fencing Mask with back of the head protection, Gorget, Padded Fencing Jacket, Heavy HEMA Gloves, Arm and Elbow Protection, Knee and Shin Protection, shoes, and a cup for men. Some require a plastron and padded breaches as well.
In Europe, many tournaments provide the weapons to be used while in the Americas that is rarer except for events that are outside of the most common weapons like longsword and rapier. Providing tournament weapons can be a great way for a smith to advertise their feders or blades.
There also must be no bare skin shown when Fencing with weapons and some state overtly that if they can see skin if you raise your arms then that is unacceptable. I would recommend skipping the basic mask and go to CEN 2 at the very start as there really isn’t that much of a price difference and it makes a big deal for durability and longevity. Vasaslaget explicitly states CEN 2 or 1600N at least as a requirement to compete and forbids hockey gear.
Feders from Ensifer, Regenyei, Danelli Armouries, Comfort Fencing, Darkwood, Chlebowski, Pavel Moc, SGT Blades, Mac Arms, and Castille are usually accepted. For some other manufacturers only certain models are allowed but in general feders with rolled, ‘nail like’, or widened tips with well-rounded cross guards are accepted. I would also recommend models with rounded pommels because some have wickedly dangerous styles.
Few tournaments allow Hanwei or Red Dragon Feders. Many don’t allow Darksword Armory as well.
Check out A Novice’s Guide to HEMA: Websites to Buy Swords and Equipment to see where and what websites you can look at to buy your gear.
Very importantly make sure you have safe and appropriate luggage/bags to carry your goods for your method of travel. Don’t skimp on a cheap and poorly made bag if flying or taking a bus and it can be useful to think of how to secure your gear if it is going to be out of your sight.
If you enjoy watching bouts in older tournaments check out HEMA LiveStream Series on Facebook. It hasn’t been updated in a while but is worth checking out.
I really recommend this conversation about competing in tournaments I found over at Schola Gladiatora.
Please click on the following links for more of my guides on HEMA:
Swordfish 2016 Livestream and a fantastic match illustrating a less commented type of bout with unarmed combat using Ringen below.
Martail Arts Historical Italian (XVII was 2016)
HEMA-Cornhusker State Games
The Deed of Arms Event
World Broadsword Championship