So... what do we actually do?

Historical European Martial Arts (or HEMA) is the practice of the martial arts of Europe from the 1300s to the 1900s, and is also commonly referred to as Historical Fencing. It's not LARPing, it's not Olympic fencing, it's not re-enactment or SCA - it's in a realm of its own with a more combative or martial focus than its counterparts. We train with real (although blunt) swords, with the goal of replicating the type of combat that would have been prevalent in battle and duels in medieval and renaissance Europe. You can see some footage of us in action here.

A typical lesson starts with a warm up & conditioning session, utilising exercises tailored to build skills and attributes relevant to swordplay. Following this we spend some time building foundational skills like footwork, distance management, timing, and mind-body connection - before moving on to technique drills focussed on a specific principle or set of principles. We then close out the session with an 'open floor', during which members are free to work on whatever they like, and take part in sparring to apply what they've learned.

New students are encouraged to attend training to check out what we do and how we train. If you like what you see, sign up and start training under our head instructor - Jim Campbell. We train with a variety of weapon systems, not just those listed below. While some other clubs train with wooden or synthetic swords, we encourage all fighters to train with steel weapons from day one. Steel weapons look, feel, and behave more like the 'real thing' - they also help to foster a healthy respect for the weapon, your training partners, and yourself.

There is limited loan gear available (including swords and masks) for new recruits, though we encourage the acquisition and maintenance of your own kit sooner rather than later. Not only does it tend to work better for you and allow you to train outside of scheduled sessions, it also helps you avoid using the dreaded communal masks!

At the end of each content block we hold a tournament that allows our members to apply what they've learned and demonstrate their skills - testing their mettle against their colleagues. We also host and attend larger tournaments and swordplay/HEMA gatherings throughout the year, though the majority of these happen outside of WA, along the east coast or overseas.

Session details

Tuesday nights, 6.30pm - 8.30pm - dagger, messer, sword & buckler

Diversity of skill and adaptability are key to becoming a formidable fighter. To this end we undertake a new weapon system at different intervals throughout the year. Our current roster is:

This session is held at 7a Kitchener St, North Beach.

Thursday nights, 6.30pm - 8.30pm - longsword

As longsword is our primary weapon, we study this year round. While we regularly deep-dive into some of the more advanced or particular techniques, we frequently come back to the basics in order to maintain a solid foundation.

As we practice longsword year-round, the content can be quite a bit more complex than what we cover on Tuesday nights. To make sure no-one finds themselves in over their heads, we also run longsword intake courses periodically throughout the year. If you already have experience in longsword fencing, you can probably skip the intake and jump straight in – if you don’t, get in touch and we’ll let you know when our next intake kicks off. If you’re unsure, drop us a line.

This session is held at 7a Kitchener St, North Beach.

Saturday mornings, 10am - 11am - sabre and ringen

The sabre formed an integral part of both the military and recreational fencing cultures of many European nations. Our sabre course comprises of both British and Polish sabre traditions - drawing on the works or Charles Roworth, John Taylor, Henry Angelo, Thomas Page, James Miller, John Waite, and Richard Marsden.

Our ringen sessions focus mostly on Lignitzer's content, and draw on other folk wrestling styles to add some spice to the sauce. These sessions are ideal to help you grow your understanding of principles and concepts that are core to other areas of historical fencing.

This session is held at the 1st Wembley Downs Scout Hall.

Warm-ups & conditioning


The longsword is our primary weapon at Ursa Major, and is arguably the most popular weapon in HEMA despite its relatively brief time in the historical spotlight. Weighted and balanced to be equally devastating in one or two hands, the longsword and combat with it varied and evolved over the centuries and traditions of use. While hilt lengths, quillion shapes, pommel shapes, blade lengths, and blade cross-sections varied greatly, the basic design was a simple - a straight, double edged blade, cruciform crossguard and hilt big enough for two hands. Historical examples range from 100cm to 130cm in length, and 1100g to 1800g - far lighter than Hollywood would have us believe.


Common blade cross-sections

In something of a medieval & renaissance arms race, as armour type changed, so did sword blade design. When only having to contend with basic cloth or leather armour, blades were wide and thin to make them effective cutting blades. As chain and plate armour began to arrive on the scene and cutting was less effective, blades became thicker and stiffer, with an acute point that made for lethal thrusts through chainmaille and into the gaps in more rigid armour. The blade wasn't the only deadly part of the sword though; a competent fighter could use the quillions to punch and hook their opponent, or hold the sword by the blade and strike with the pommel in a movement called the mordschlag (murder-strike), compromising armour and crushing bones with devastating effect.


Portrait of Johannes Liechtenauer


While the longsword was used in many cultures throughout Europe, the German tradition of longsword combat is one of the best documented and understood, and as such forms the majority of our curriculum at Ursa Major. Attributed to the master of combat, Johannes Liechtenauer, and glossed & expanded by a number of contemporaries and later fencing masters, the German tradition of swordplay is comprehensive and holistic, and is recorded in several manuscripts. We work primarily from early German sources, including Sigmund Ringeck, Hans Dobringer, Paulus Hector Mair, Paulus Kal and Danzig. To add context and fill some gaps, we also look at the works of Joachim Meyer, a later German fencing master and Fiore dei Liberi, an Italian master of combat.



Carried historically by most as a sidearm and tool, the medieval dagger was longer than what what we tend to think of when picturing a dagger today. Primarily made for thrusting though still capable of cutting, the dagger was often used for hooking and trapping to immobilise or injure your opponent before being used to finish them off. Dagger design varied greatly from complex and ornate to simple and utilitarian, and were sometimes used in conjunction with another weapon, such as a messer or rapier.

At Ursa Major we focus mostly on the work of Fiore dei Liberi for our dagger content, as recorded in his text Il Fior di battaglia, or "The Flower of Battle" - widely regarded as one of the most complete and effective systems under the HEMA umbrella. Fiore uses the dagger as a complimentary extension of the body, building on his grappling techniques to yield an efficient system of historical dagger combat, effective both in and out of armour. To flesh this out and add a little variety we add a smattering of historical German dagger combat and modern knife fighting.


Sword & buckler

The iconic duo of the sword and buckler was used through almost the entirety of HEMA's timeline, with the earliest known manuscript, the I.33 manuscript containing instruction on the use of the arming sword and buckler. While being more prevalent in the earlier periods, this effective pairing persisted across time and space, being prevalent in German, Italian and English systems. The buckler was a compact and versatile defensive option that could be easily carried and wielded by commoner and noble alike, and complimented all one handed swords, regardless of whether they had a simple or complex hilt construction.

We draw from a variety of sources in order to create well rounded fighters, but our syllabus consists primarily of the work of Andre Lignitzer, Hans Talhoffer and the I.33 manuscript.


Sword in one hand

There's a huge variety of one handed swords around - from the classic knightly arming sword to the brutal, efficient messer, and the elegant sabre each is unique, though all have a measure of similarity. With some made primarily for cutting, others primarily for thrusting and a fair number equally effective at both, systems of one handed sword combat have about as much overlap as they do uniqueness. Our sword in one hand syllabus combines techniques for a number of one handed swords, including the German messer, the Italian 'sword in one hand', the English sabre, and Highland broadsword - pulling out the best parts of each style and merging them into an effective body of knowledge.



The sabre formed an integral part of both the military and recreational fencing cultures of many European nations. Our sabre course comprises of both British and Polish sabre traditions.The British military component focusses primarily on Charles Roworth's Art of Defense on Foot - known by its acronym AOD, the manual teaches a universal system of swordsmanship that is applicable to all military swords used on foot at that time. This includes the broadsword, sabre, spadroon, and hanger. This is supplemented and expanded on by drawing on the works of Henry Angelo, Thomas Page, James Miller, John Waite, and John Taylor.

The system predominately uses linear footwork that is deeply grounded in the back, broad and sheering (spadroon) sword sources of the late 17th and early 18th century - and utilises a parry-riposte system, where a strong defence is commonly made before responding with an attack.

The Polish Sabre component is based on Richard Marsden’s interpretation of Polish sabre in the 17th century. The Polish have a love of parrying, feinting, cross cutting and of course the very stylistic moulinets, which pair well with their way of explaining distance, timing, and footwork. We will look to touch on all the mentioned techniques, with an emphasis on cross cutting and feinting as the Polish loved to use these to cut around blocks and parries thanks to the blade's unique curve.

Sabre fighting