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Editorial: Trial by Combat

Updated: Feb 16

It is a given that Signum Corvus School of Arms is a martial arts school. I mean, it’s right in the name, isn’t it? But the question arises: what does that mean?


longsword duel from Meyer

If you look around, you’ll find a huge variety in approaches to the martial arts, ranging from storied traditions such as kendo and kenjustsu to the very different traditions of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and even the MMA.


HEMA sits in a very different, yet also familiar place.


The first generation of practitioners were frequently influenced by their disillusionment with olympic sport fencing, as well as their respect for more culturally embedded (mostly Asian) martial arts traditions. Many of these folks had practiced both and were looking for a more “genuine” martial experience, but in the Western tradition. So they looked to the historical texts. Experimental archaeology, as some have labelled it.


But as HEMA has grown, so has the diversity in interpretation of what HEMA actual is.

Obviously there is the tournament/sport side of our anachronistic tradition, which some have come to view as veering too close to the Olympic style of fencing. Then there are others who are looking for ways to spar with minimal gear (arguably in the tradition of Meyer). And finally there are those who continue to focus on the text and illustrations of the manuscripts, and are less focused on full speed combat, as is often seen in I.33 practitioners.


The various schools that are now the core of our community reflect this diversity of approaches to HEMA. Some focus on a specific tradition (such as our focus on Fiore for longsword), while others are known to teach the sport aspect of Western Martial Arts (WMA vs HEMA).


So how is this reflected in our community?


No doubt, many of you have seen various degrees of handwringing/outrage on social media about these divisions. But here’s the thing — we are a community. This is more apparent to me the longer I am part of it. I spend time with folks from our club and from others. I obsessively watch Youtube videos and exchange opinions both online and over beers. These conversations encompass how each of us approach our practice, whether it’s the reading we do, what techniques we focus on when we spar, or how interested we are in competing in tournaments.

And, for the most part, conversations about our differences in what this hobby means to each of us are civil. Enjoyable, even.


Here at Signum Corvus, there is a commitment to the historical side of HEMA. But what does this mean to the individual practitioner, and how does this play out in your practice?


To explore these questions, we will be posting a series of articles that I have labelled ‘Trial By Combat.” They will be an exploration of this idea, written by members of our school.


This collection of articles is intended to be the first in a series of topics where we can explore the practical and philosophical aspects of our Art, and what it means to us in our practice, and in our lives.


I hope you’ll join us in this conversation and the ones that follow so that we can gain deeper insights into this thing we do and, as always, have fun while doing it.


Jeff Butler

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1 Comment


Mr. Menanno
Mr. Menanno
Feb 17

Well put.

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