So what exactly is HEMA / Historical Fencing?

Often considered the ‘martial analogue’ of Olympic Fencing, Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) and Historical Fencing (HF) are martial arts that focus on the study, interpretation and reconstruction of the combat arts prevalent in various European cultures between the 1300’s and 1900’s, though German, Italian and Spanish traditions feature predominantly. Systems that fall under the HEMA / Historical Fencing umbrella include

  • Wrestling
  • Pugilism
  • Dagger
  • Messer
  • Sword & buckler
  • Longsword
  • Rapier
  • Sabre


So it's like Olympic Fencing?

Not quite - Olympic Fencing is more of a sport, using less realistic weapons and much lighter protective gear. HEMA / HF and Olympic Fencing both developed from the same sources, but the former has preserved its martial intent and practice, while the latter has become more standardised and sportified, with lighter weapons and less protection.


Is HEMA / HF like LARP?

No - HEMA / HF and LARP have very little in common, though some people practice both. There is no acting, role playing, magic or healing in HEMA / HF - it is a purely physical and martial study of the combat arts of medieval and renaissance Europe.


Is HEMA / HF  easy to learn? It looks quite fast and technical.

HEMA / HF has a steep learning curve and a broad body of content, however, our school has students at all stages of the journey who can act as your peers, guides and mentors - and we provide quality training and maintain a supportive and friendly learning environment for learners of all experience levels. As with any passtime, the more time you dedicate to practice, the faster you will pick things up.


Do I need to be really fit to enjoy myself?

Not necessarily, but it helps. HEMA / HF is a martial art, and advanced levels of skill require coordination, strength, endurance, and finesse. Just like other physical pursuits, the process of learning HEMA / HF can be intense, so while you might start out as a wet noodle, sticking with HEMA / HF will help you grow. We hold resilience and self-improvement in high regard at Ursa Major, and will support you along your journey to the same end.


Do I need a lot of equipment to take part in HEMA / HF?

Our school provides swords and helmets for beginner students to use in class, and all you will need to join in is activewear and non-marking sports shoes. As you become more experienced our school can help you in acquiring your own sword and protective gear.


Where can I get basic equipment for training?

The most important equipment to acquire at an early stage is a helmet, suitable gloves, and a weapon. Ursa Major has a variety of quality gear available, with a list of recommended suppliers for that which we don’t stock, many of which offer a discount to our members.


Are there any dangers involved?

Yes - we are handling weapons and training in combat arts which have historically been used to injure, maim, and kill. Though the weapons we use are blunt & flexible, we wear protective gear, and we take every precaution, there is still a chance for injury or even death. We prioritise respect for your partner, your opponent, your gear and of course, yourself - and have found this to be crucial in minimising risks. Of course, the danger is part of what makes it fun!


Can I try HEMA / Historical Fencing before I sign up?

Yes, your first lesson with Ursa Major is free. There is some paperwork to complete on your first session so ensure you arrive 10 minutes before the lesson starts so we can get you up to speed. We also run longsword intake courses throughout the year - get in touch if you're keen to join in.


What will I learn in class?

A typical class includes a warm-up / HIIT session (15-20 mins) focussed on improving fitness and resilience specific to our goals, followed by a series of drills focussing on a particular technique or concept (60 mins). After this we open the floor to general sparring and drilling practice - this time is yours to use as you wish. Our combat style lends itself to the practical (tournament) application of martial techniques - we don’t compromise on the quality of a technique or interpretation of a source to make things work in a tournament setting, but we do train to fight at speeds and intensities common to HEMA / HF tournaments. Note that involvement in these tournaments is optional - you are more than welcome to train with us but not take part in tournaments if that’s your preference. 


What should I bring to my first lesson?

Bring a sweat towel, a water bottle and a bag to keep your kit in. Wear enclosed shoes and comfortable clothing - something you can move freely in similar to what you'd wear to the gym.


How much do lessons cost?

At Ursa Major, a single session casual pass costs $25, though you can purchase a ten class pass for $175, or a premium trimester pass that is $385 for all regular weekly sessions (works out to around $10/class!).


Do I need previous martial art experience?

No. While there are similarities and many transferrable skills between HEMA / HF and other martial arts, HEMA / HF also has similarities with boxing, dancing and Olympic fencing. You do not need to have experience in any of these to enjoy HEMA / HF.


How old do I have to be to join in?

Ursa Major has a minimum age of 16. Under 18's must have a parent or guardian present during their first lesson.


Where can I see some examples of HEMA / Historical Fencing in action?

There are plenty of resources available on youtube and google that will give you an idea of what HEMA is like - good keywords are "HEMA drills" and "HEMA practice". Another great resource is - a site dedicated to HEMA scholarship and techniques. Our YouTube channel is full of tournament and event footage, and one of our members also maintains a channel of tournament footage - you can check it out here.


Can I become the next Jon Snow from learning HEMA / Historical Fencing?

Only if you know nothing. Knowing that, you're one step further away from becoming the next Jon Snow. Maybe try Geralt of Rivia though, I hear Witchers can make a decent living.