Recently, renewed interest in swords, especially the longsword, have attracted sports headlines. Many clubs for martial arts enthusiasts dedicated to “historical European martial arts” (“HEMA“) now operate around the world. Safe swordplay in these venues absolutely requires competent instruction and proper safety gear.
HEMA: Not Fencing
For hundreds of years, the sport of fencing attracted martial arts enthusiasts. Fencing, a well-established activity, appeals to Olympic Games hopefuls. Extensive procedural rules govern this athletic activity.
By contrast, HEMA as a comparatively new hobby, has not achieved the same level of extensive regulation and oversight. Few guidelines exist to specify the dimensions and safety features of weapons used in games.
Participants do not adhere to a single set of rules. Different local clubs follow 2011-style Longsword Rules, Longpoint Rules, Nordic Rules, or variations of those regulations. Anyone considering taking up this new martial art really should seek qualified instruction first, as a matter of basic safety.
In 2011, some 60 enthusiasts engaged in a longsword tournament called Longpoint in Ellicott City, Maryland. Due in large measure to the popularity of HEMA clubs in the United States and other nations, the tournament has expanded in scope and size. In July, 2014, the four-day competition included several types of swordplay, plus grappling.
The longsword witnessed a considerable resurgence in popularity. The weapons used in HEMA events consist of steel swords with blunted tips and unsharpened blades.
Even though participants often wear body armor in addition to traditional fencing gear, these swords possess the potential to inflict serious bodily injury in the wrong hands. As enthusiasts contend with one another in vigorous matches, struggling to demonstrate specific strategies and point-winning techniques, the potential exists for untrained individuals to sustain needless injuries, or to inflict harm on others.
Experienced martial arts experts appreciate these hazards. For instance, the YouTube site scholagladiatoria posted a video on YouTube entitled: “A Point About Longsword Guards And Hand Injury in Fencing.” The video observes that longsword users displaying poor technique run the risk of sustaining sword blows to the thumb of the sword handle-holding hand during competition. Perhaps not unexpectedly, some online sites now offer steel reinforced gloves modeled along the lines of protective gear worn during the 1300s and 1400s for longsword enthusiasts.
The participants in longsword competitions frequently sustain bruising during the course of matches. The steel weapons used by HEMA enthusiasts do not always conform with the same guidelines, since so many different sets of rules currently circulate. As a sport in its infancy in the United States, swordplay attracts both serious athletes and amateurs enthused with popular media fantasy icons.
Any sword possesses the potential to cause serious bodily injury, the loss of an eye, or even permanent damage. In order to gain the respect HEMA participants desire for their favorite competitive sport among athletic events, leaders in the field should consider requiring participation in basic training and sword safety classes before permitting untrained enthusiasts to engage in competition.