HEMA

Historical European martial (normally abbreviated as HEMA) arts cover a broad variety
of fighting systems, from the classical pugilism of 18th and 19th century England to the elegant
fencing systems of the 16th and 17th century Italians, and also including the energetic knightly
arts of late medieval Germany. Some practitioners choose to focus on the use of specific
weapons, the longsword or rapier being popular examples, regardless of the time period or region
their techniques come from. Others focus on specific traditions, the Liechtenauer and Bolognese
schools being very popular. At Rising Phoenix Martial Arts, we focus primarily on the 1570
work of Joachim Meyer entitled “A Thorough Description on the Free, Knightly, and Noble Art
of Fencing,” or more simply “The Art of Combat.”
Meyer’s treatise is born from the Liechtenauer school of fencing, which was the
mainstream fencing style in late medieval Germany. Meyer’s work is also heavily influenced by
the Bolognese and other contemporary Italians, Meyer himself stating that he practiced daily
with the Italians for some time. Meyer, unlike many of his predecessors and contemporaries, did
not want to simply document his art for his noble students. Rather, he wanted to modernize the
practice and make it accessible to the other citizens rather than just the nobility (keeping in mind
that a “citizen” at this time was still above a commoner in social standing). In doing so Meyer
wrote on a few classical German weapons: the longsword, the dagger, and the staff, as well as
more modern weapons like the rapier, which while he believed was not a proper German
weapon, it was still important to practice with as they were gaining in popularity among the
Germans. His work included also some of the modern weapons of war: like the dussack, the
pike, and halberd. His teachings can also be easily extrapolated to work with two-handed sword,
commonly called a greatsword today, which was a popular weapon among mercenaries at the
time. Meyer’s fighting method, while fundamentally German, shows a marked diversion from
the medieval style, with its lack of armored combat, using the sword to teach basics rather than
wrestling, and being targeted towards a young man with little fighting experience rather than an
already seasoned knight.
Meyer’s treatise is organized into three books, and divided into individual chapter from
there. The first book was the first chapter itself, teaching the methods of the longsword, a fairly
large one- or two-handed sword popular throughout medieval Europe. This first chapter also
includes a large amount of basic fencing theory. His second book included the next two chapters,
covering the dussack and then the rapier and its accompanying weapons, used to teach a student
how to fight with one-handed weapons. The dussack, at the time, was a term used for the broad,
short proto-sabres employed as a military sidearm, as well as the practice or sporting weapons
made from wood or leather that were popular among civilians. The rapier depicted in The Art of
Combat is unlike the popular idea of the rapier, which is a long, narrow sword with a complex
hilt designed mainly for thrusting. Meyer’s rapier is an earlier form, which while still long and
slender in blade, is easily substantial enough to deliver lethal cuts. The hilt is less complex,
consisting of a cross guard, a knuckle guard, and a side ring. Meyer also uses his second book to
teach more advanced concepts and introduce a student to employing and defending thrusts,

which he omitted earlier for a variety of reasons, including general safety and social conventions
of the time. Meyer’s third book in the treatise included the final two chapters; these being dagger
and wrestling, followed by polearms. Meyer’s descriptions on dagger fighting and wrestling are
far less thorough than his other sections, as he stated he intended to publish a separate
manuscript on the topic (he died of illness before this was possible). The dagger of the time was
akin to the parrying daggers used alongside the rapier: double edged, cruciform hilt, and a blade
roughly as long as the forearm. His descriptions on the polearms are split into three categories.
The first is the staff, a quintessential medieval weapon, about six to eight feet long, and this
serves as the basis for all long weapons. The next sections are devoted to the halberd and the
pike. Both were popular military weapons at the time. The halberd is essentially a spear with and
axe near the tip, and a hook or spike opposite that. A pike, simply put, is a very long spear. Both
of these military weapons build off the teachings of the staff. Because polearms are the basis of
all long weapons, their teachings can be combined with Meyer’s cut-centric longsword syllabus
to easily extrapolate the use of a two-hander, a roughly six foot long sword popular among
mercenaries at the time.
Participants of our HEMA study group can expect to work through the entirety of
Meyer’s art. Each chapter will be studied individually as units, and teachings will be pulled from
other units as applicable (for example, drawing upon rapier teachings to learn to thrust
effectively with the longsword). As Meyer’s treatise is not perfect, we will sometimes need to
look at the works of Meyer’s contemporaries like Paulus Hector Mair to fill in the gaps.

Phone: 1(403) 797-0027
Fax:
Okotoks, AB T0H 1A9
3 Fisher Crescent #213, Okotoks, AB T0H 1A9