Growing HEMA

Written by Fran Terminiello

Sales is not a career I would ever consider because I can’t pretend to be enthusiastic about something I don’t care about. But there is a product which I do believe in, passionately, and that is Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA).


I have no qualms about promoting this at any opportunity: social media, flyers, waxing lyrical at barbecues and birthday parties, giving business cards to strangers on the train…I am your average HEMA street pusher. There are many like me, with varying degrees of evangelism enthusiasm. The world of HEMA relies on the people that do it and love it to promote it.

The phenomenon of social media has worked wonders for promoting HEMA: from the Swordfish Livestream that spawned many like it, evolving into events such the recent broadcast on ESPN of Longpoint South Longsword finals; to various YouTube channels of HEMA gurus sharing their pearls of wisdom with a much bigger audience than any advertising budget could afford.

The result is our niche hobby continues to slowly spread and become more popular. This is exciting and terrifying (you could say those two emotions are one and the same). It spawns many discussions online, and you can hear the fear in people’s hearts, particularly those who’ve been in the scene for decades and feel like it’s growing beyond their control.

We are regularly menaced by the spectre of “the sportification of HEMA” which is easily dispelled by historical precedent.

There is the fear that the YouTube talking heads are feeding people the wrong information – to which I say if you don’t like what someone is doing, do it better.

Swords continue to thrive in popular culture, thanks to literature, gaming and the film and TV industry. Along with HEMA becoming more visible are other sword based activities such as HMB (Historical Medieval Battle), LARP (Live Action Roleplay), reenactment, sports fencing, even light-sabre fencing. We can either be annoyed and complain at the competition, or we can set up our store front alongside theirs and see who wants what we can offer.

TL;DR this is the main thrust of this blog post – “Be positive, this is an exciting opportunity to grow the community. Which is actually a good thing.”

As mentioned at the start, not everyone is quite as keen as I am to spread the word. There is a reluctance to get just any Tom, Dick or Harriet in the door that will turn up then disappear, having wasted people’s time. There’s a belief that only the ‘best’ should be cultivated for the Historical European Martial Arts.

“You aren’t ‘tricking’ people into buying something that they don’t want or need, you’re showing them something they may have never considered or known about before. This is why the message of diversity matters so much when promoting HEMA. It’s for everyone.”

This is setting off on the wrong foot in my opinion, or a good way to end up with a very small club that stagnates quickly. You don’t know who will dig HEMA, nor who will benefit from it unless you tell everyone about it. Advertising is not just about exploitation. You aren’t ‘tricking’ people into buying something that they don’t want or need, you’re showing them something they may have never considered or known about before. This is why the message of diversity matters so much when promoting HEMA. It’s for everyone.

Some will insist that HEMA (as they see it) is not everyone’s cup of tea. But they’re assuming all HEMA is the same i.e what they practice or want HEMA to be. HEMA is a collective term, just like Martial Arts are not only boxing.  I’ve yet to meet two clubs, even in the same organisation, that are identical. There are so many cups of tea to try.

There’s a cup of tea for everyone.

In the quest for excellence there are voices that call for only the ‘best’ candidates to join their clubs. Beyond the conceit and elitism in this view, I can’t help but wonder how do you determine who those people are exactly, without inviting them in and spending time with them? I’ve encountered people who pick up techniques easily and are very physically fit, but HEMA is just not for them. Don’t assume the people you want will want you, and don’t make the mistake of dismissing someone who could be a great asset to your club.

Anecdotally speaking, I’ve noticed a steady uptick in people interested in HEMA, but it won’t be the stampede or swelling of ranks that is predicted every time it is featured in mainstream news. People need time to digest the concept, and decide if it is right for them, they need repeated exposure, if advertising is anything to go by. For example, one of my students didn’t start HEMA until a year after seeing one of our demos at a local event. I didn’t start until going with my husband to his first class at The School of the Sword and then realising that I wanted to do it too. This is still very much a buyer’s market and will continue to be so for a while yet.

Along with excellence, whatever that means, is the demand from would-be auditioners for people who achieve success and quality. Define “success” and “quality”: is that producing winning fighters? Good instructors? Happy fencers? Team spirit? Translated works? Videos? Courses? Becoming a full time instructor? Worldwide workshops? Multiple chapters? Success and quality come in many forms. We aren’t building just a set of talented fencers and teachers, we’re building a community.

Swordfish 2016

If any martial arts or sports club is to survive it needs a steady intake of beginners., Attrition varies depending on a number of factors but you are always going to have (and need) a broad base. Unless it has extremely dedicated people practicing in a park on a regular basis who have all their own gear a club must continually invest in a continuous supply of newcomers.

“Give people your time and your passion for your art, they will follow your example and build your club and scene alongside you.”

HEMA is not just made up of top instructors and fencers, and even these don’t arrive ready made and packaged. It needs researchers, interpreters, administrators, coaches, assistants, innovators, swordsmiths, product developers, distributors, webmasters, organisers, planners, bloggers, lecturers, accountants, caterers, treasurers, cheerleaders and plenty of other roles that I am sure I will come across in time.

Give people your time and your passion for your art, they will follow your example and build your club and scene alongside you.




Fran Terminiello is lead instructor at The School of the Sword, co-founder of Esfinges, co-founder of Waterloo Sparring Group and should be writing a book right now.






The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Esfinges.

Matilda of Canossa

Written by Claudia Krause



You want drama?

How about having the world’s most powerful men meeting at your place, one of them face down, begging for forgiveness? How about being accused of sleeping with the pope or having murdered your husband? How about charging into the enemy’s camp on your horse, your father’s sword in hand?

Matilda of Canossa certainly had her share of excitement, although nearly 1000 years later few people may have heard of her. In German “a walk to Canossa” still is an old-fashioned expression for eating humble pie. The woman who was instrumental in this event is well worth remembering. She was celebrated and feared during her lifetime and for centuries to follow, as military leader and powerful ally to pope Gregory VII and his successors. So, how did she become so formidable in a time where “equal opportunities” were not policy anywhere in Europe?

Childhood and youth

Things started rather pleasant and harmless. Matilda was born in 1046 as the third child into a noble Lombard family. For those of us who are historically challenged: the Lombards or Longobards were a Germanic people who ruled large parts of the Italian peninsula, before they got incorporated into the “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”. Lombard nobles continued to control Northern Italy, and had to negotiate alliances with opposing overlords along the line. Matilda’s family was closely allied to the emperor of the time, Henry III. When Matilda was 6, her father died and things got tricky for her mother. In order to preserve her family’s interest she remarried. The stepfather, however, was at odds with the emperor. Henry III didn’t take kindly to the alliance and abducted mother and daughter to Germany. By the time an agreement was reached, and they returned to Tuscany some years later, all her siblings had died. Matilda was acknowledged heir to the largest territory south of the Empire.

Matilda’s territory (

Matilda’s mother and stepfather were heavily involved in papal politics. Given that Matilda was going to inherit the “family business”, she might have taken an active part in the proceedings.  Aged 21, she went on a military campaign with her stepfather, overseeing part of the troops. She apparently did rather well. She had been betrothed to her stepbrother, “Godfrey, the Hunchback” since childhood, and lived for a while with him in Lorraine. However things didn’t go well after her stepfather died, and she left her husband after the early death of her only child, never to return.

Godfrey the hunchback (

Reign in Tuscany

Matilda’s husband started siding with the emperor of the day, Henry V.  She remained loyal to pope Gregory VII. Maybe this led to her estranged husband brandishing rumours about an affair between the two. Soon after he met his death, when he was ambushed “following a call of nature” while campaigning in Flanders. There is no evidence that Matilda was involved in his death, but it was timely. Soon after her mother died, and as a widow she had nobody to contest her heritage to Tuscany. By this time she was one of pope Gregory’s most trusted military advisors. It was on her suggestion that pope and emperor met at Canossa when the latter’s intentions weren’t quite clear. It was also with her help that a deal was brokered following the emperor’s rather effusive “apology”.

Matilda at Canossa (

When years later tables were turned, and the pope was forced into exile, Matilda stood her ground, continued to control the Apennine passes and act as intermediary for papal messages and defeat Henry’s attempts to take Rome. When he once again confronted her in her own territory he suffered defeat at Canossa in 1092. Several cities in Northern Italy broke from the emperor’s rule, as did his eldest son and wife. Attempt at retaliation failed, and in 1095, Matilda managed to establish Gregory’s successor in Rome. Henry IV’s influence in Italy never recovered and he died a defeated man in 1106. His successor, Henry V, was luckier.  When he “visited” Northern Italy, Matilda  acceded him the rights to territories which had been disputed for 20 years. He crowned her  “Imperial Vicar and Vice-Queen of Italy” in return. When she died 4 years later aged 69, from gout, a biography had already been written and dedicated to her. “Vitae Matildae” by the Benedictine monk Donizio, might be a tricky read, as it’s in Latin Hexameters. Translations in German and Italian are fortunately available.

Drawing Matilda

As part of an Esfinges project we were invited to draw historical warrior women. Contemporary pictures were not much help drawing Matilda lifelike, given the rather schematic style of the period. Later portraits are as much subject of conjecture as my own. Descriptions of her appearance don’t seem to exist. Later sources state that she had been taught strategy, tactics, riding and wielding weapons in her childhood, but scholars can’t agree here. She has been documented to have been active in campaign, and reportedly rode out with her father’s sword. We now know that the weight of armour worn at the time would not have been a problem for a healthy woman to fight in, let alone wear. So I have pictured her on her way to her horse. Her shield  is still on the wall. It features the jumping dog of the House of Canossa. She wears chainmail and nasal helmet customary for wealthy warriors of that time in Europe, and carries her father’s sword as per legend. Woe to those who cross her!


The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Esfinges.matilda-drawing


Newark, Tim. Women Warloards: An illustrated military history of female warriors, The Bath Press, London, 1989; print,_Duke_of_Lower_Lorraine

Roll for initiative – Anna Pighin and HEMA in Italy

Anna Pighin, of Udine, Italy, has been studying Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) since 2009.  She focuses on the Bolognese School, in all its wonderful facets, although the side sword will always have a special place in her heart. She has been the founder and chief instructor of her local club “Sala d’Arme Achille Marozzo (SAAM)- Friuli Venezia Giulia” since 2012. Her students, friends, and fellow HEMAists call her a “paladin”, a “woman of steel”, strong-willed, confident and capable, at the same time proactive and full of ideas, a loyal friend and the soul of her club. She kindly told us about her experiences and HEMA in Italy.



E: What got you into HEMA?

A: I hope you can hear the dice rolling in the background, because that’s one of the reasons that got me into HEMA: I had a warrior character in Dungeons & Dragons. I still remember her, a dwarf with a real fondness for her sword and her rum. I wanted to  interpret my role better. On the fondness for rum I had no issues, the sword proved more difficult. I was living in Florence at the time, and I googled, “scherma medievale” [medieval fencing], and one of the first links was  SAAM, at around 10km from where I lived, and that of F.I.S.A.S., 500m from me. I looked at both sites, and  I let myself to be convinced by the graphics of the SAAM one, that was more up-to-date and complete compared to the other.  I showed up at the club on a Tuesday evening and I never left. In 8 years in SAAM I did practically nothing “medieval”, but almost only renaissance!

Another reason  is much more personal. Living in Florence, 400km from home, completely alone without knowing anyone, was an experience that, for a 20 year old girl, was not easy to manage, and I didn’t have the same strength I have now, at all. With SAAM I found a second family and a sport that made me feel alive. I had a way to feel my errors on my skin: Every bruise is a failed action or a distraction during the assault. How I am now as a person owes a lot to these 8 years – Do you think it is easy for a person with my attitude to live in a world dominated by men?

HEMA is family. Photo by Federico Dall’Olio.

E: Did you have any previous experience in martial arts or fencing?

A: Not with fencing. Well, to be honest, I had some contact with it. Giulia Rizzi, one of the athletes in the epee fencing Olympic team, was  one of my classmates for many years. As much as she’s always been a very humble person, her victories spoke for her. Surely having a clear solid example of a girl “good with weapons” pushed me at the time to look for something similar.

Speaking of martial arts in general, I practiced Judo for 2 years. I got lots of the discipline and martial mindset that helped me to teach HEMA. We are a de facto martial environment, at least in SAAM, where it is necessary for the instructors to be an example. I think that oriental martial arts can teach us a lot,  though we need to adapt it to our needs.

E: How did you come to be an instructor?

A: This is a really interesting story.

Sometimes in life you find yourself at a crossroads. I was 22 years old when I realized that in a year I’d have to leave Florence and go back to Udine, my home, in the far North. I’ve always been a very diligent girl and in a way very devoted to duty – which, to be honest, has been counterproductive sometimes. So when I realized this I had these choices in front of me: stay in Florence and keep on fencing, going back to Udine and look for some historical fencing class in my city, going back to Udine and open a SAAM. My parents would  probably have taken me  home by force, and confined me to a mental ward, if I had stayed in Florence. I would have understood them!

Since my head is hard as a rock I decided to walk the hardest path – full of thorns and other dangers – repeating to myself  that difficulties spice up your life.  Not all instructors in SAAM were in favour of me taking the exam and starting to teach. So I must thank my instructors (Alessandro Battistini, Iacopo Venni, Gioacchino Cecchi) for taking my side even against those who believed I wasn’t ready yet. In hindsight I understand those reservations completely, tied mainly to my age then compared  to the average age of the SAAM students. So just a week past my 23rd birthday in June I took the exam for SAAM Assistant Instructor in Bologna, and after three months I began teaching.

It was…hard, in the beginning. I was alone, very young, had little equipment to offer my students. But I was fiercely pushed by the naivete of my youth, by my stubborn determination and by my hate of failure, and after five years I had more than 30 students.

I often joke that here in the North we are the swords in the darkness, the watchers on the walls – even if I enjoy breaking barriers down far more than defending them – but thinking back to the beginning and me being alone – without my brothers in arms from Florence, without my instructors – was as hard as being between ice and snow. I’d say that the hard way was the right way to reach the top, and the view from here is worth all the hardships I faced.

Anna instructing. Photot by SAAM.

E: What are your favourite teaching moments, and what advice would you like to give us as a teacher?

A: Obviously when one of my students succeeds as an athlete, I am very happy and satisfied, because victory – of any type – gives an incredible energy to the group, an energy that can be used as a collective stimulus. However, the best part of teaching is that particular relationship that develops between student and teacher. I have to thank all the students I’ve had during these years, because while I have taught them fencing, they have taught me about life.

Each of us has a different body. While we might like the fighting style of another person, it is not necessarily the right one for us. We have to focus on our own merits and on our own defects, in order to strengthen the first and reduce the second. Women, in the majority of cases, are physically disadvantaged compared to men. Most of the time we are shorter, often less strong. We must therefore focus primarily on agility and coordination, and be able to trick our opponents – women are the queens of tricks!

Being cool with sword.

E: Your group (SAAM)  is possibly the largest HEMA body in the world. Tell us the history behind the organisation and your particular chapter.

It is one the oldest associations in the country; in February 2017 it is going to be 20 years old, even if obviously its founders got close to the HEMA world before. I believe this year we’ll surpass 700 members. A big number, but if we compare it to other sports it is comparatively small, and we should not forget it.

SAAM was founded in Bologna in 1997, and from there it expanded all over Italy. We have around 40 clubs. (It’s honestly hard for me to keep track of them all now.) I can proudly say that I contributed to the birth of 3 chapters in the last 5 years,  hopefully increasing them to 5 shortly.

I think there are a lot of myths to dispel regarding SAAM. First of all, I’ve been asked many times from people from other associations: “What’s your salary?”; I smile because while I teach and reserve an overwhelming amount of hours for my chapter during the week, well beyond practice time, I have never seen a single cent coming my way and I’ve often had to pay from my own pocket. In SAAM we have a clear set of principles. One is that we should not teach for money.  We believe that those who practice HEMA for a salary could be tempted to teach something that they don’t know, because they have to make a living through what they teach.  Also, the goal of our association is to spread our Art, and in order to spread it it must  be approachable. Low prices (for everything: courses, events, seminars) allow us to reach many more people – especially considering the current economical crisis, that is still felt in our country. These low prices are maintained through not paying instructors, and using equipment as economical as possible.

For years we’ve been met with barely hidden disappointment due to our choice to use rattan sticks instead of steel.  For  steel weapons we require  FIE certified protection of 1600N for head and torso, 800N for arms and legs. Being such a big association results in everything we do causing a stir. In Italy it is the bad things that are usually get attention rather than the good deeds. If one of our students were to get hurt during training due to the fact that he wasn’t using appropriate protective gear for the weapon he was fencing with, it would have quite the resonance. Because being so many, the chances of an accident are obviously greater. This is the reason that kept us far from steel, given the costs of both protective gear and weapons. Only in the last few years that we started to use steel regularly in SAAM, since the large numbers allow us to buy more costly club materials  in sufficient numbers  without burdening  the individual. Now every club has a good stock of nylon weapons and some steel ones, too.

Since our goal is that of spreading the art, there’s always been a real interest in creating new teachers who then could open new chapters. This proved a winning asset for SAAM. In the end, being a part of such a big and at the same time dynamic association gives you a strong sense of belonging, a sense of family that helps to create loyal members. At least that’s what I experienced as a student and what I try to recreate as a teacher.

Teaching, sharing, volunteering work, low prices and sense of family; this is how SAAM developed over the years.

Enjoying the sun.

E: Tell us a little bit about the HEMA scene in Italy

A: This is a truly complex question, and my answer is not going to be exhaustive. I don’t think I’m the best  person to answer, because I’m not part of the upper echelon managing the national scene. What I know is what I’ve been told, what I’ve read on social networks, and how I interpret that. I believe that HEMA Italia is in a situation similar to the Italian nation in general. In 1861, we officially became a united country,  but centuries of quarrels cannot be erased overnight. Internal disputes, even if greatly diminished in the last century and a half, are not extinct – the will of a cultural unification has been completely missing. The situation in Italian HEMA seems to mirror that. There was, on one side F.I.S.( Italian Fencing Federation, which takes our fencers to the Olympic games) and its branches that manage coaching  formation (A.I.M.S. – National Fencing Masters Academy) and certification (A.N.S. -Fencing National Academy) and on the other side an explosion of HEMA associations. It’s not completely clear to me why that happened,  but the gist is: due to some “difference of priorities” with F.I.S. there has been a series of refusals to recognise HEMA  as a fencing discipline. What’s more, there used to be a competitive fencing tournament, the famous “  Storicombat”, which has fallen into nothingness as well.

There are lots of entities in Italy now that should cover both the instructors’ formation, the competitive scene and the research and publication scene: just to name a few: A.I.M.A., S.P.A.D.A., V.A.D.I., recently A.N.H., and many more I probably don’t know of, but strangely the “Hema Italia” group disbanded after only a few years.

In conclusion, if I had to take a picture now – and certainly it is going to be partial and incomplete – of the state of HEMA Italia , I’d say there are many strong scenes, but they don’t collaborate much or at all on an interregional or national level. This, I believe, is because many people want a certain role and/or prestige and do not want to share it with others.

My hope is to improve the relationship with F.I.S. and its branches, creating a single HEMA path, parallel with Olympic fencing and  equal to it, introducing a new series of competitive events (possibly with better rulesets than the previous one), a new path to create instructors and, mainly, a research team that can continue the study of the treatises and various publications.


E: What are your future plans?

A: In the HEMA world, I want to consolidate historical fencing in our region, Friuli – Venezia Giulia. We plan to open new chapters, and create a better connection with the different HEMA scenes. I’m the president of my club, and  I want to form a group of people who are able to go on without me, because I firmly believe in the passing of knowledge and in legacy.

As for me personally, this year I will take the examination for Olympic fencing instructor, and – life commitments permitting – I would also like to take the AIMA and FIS instructor exams. Also this year I definitely want to return to the podium. I hope to have the opportunity to participate in some competition.

Sidesword bout at XIII Torneo Scherma Antica SAAM. Photo by SAAM Firenze.

How to make the Boob Shield TM

By Neil Byrne – Dublin HEMA Club

Foreword: This gem of an article was shared with us in 2013 and has been in our group’s files ever since. We have decided to make it more publicly accessible on our blog site, because it solves  a very important problem  concerning many women in HEMA: Ill fitting, restrictive, and ineffective chest protection.
The original Boob Shield featured here is now nearly 4 years old. It is still going strong, giving its owner much protection and comfort when fighting. Making the Boob Shield might take a second pair of hands, but is an effort worthwhile.

The following is a set of instructions on the construction of a tailor-made dense plastic polymer chest protector for individuals involved in HEMA. I came up with the design, because I was unhappy with the terrible levels of protection for women in the hobby and did not want my fiancée getting hurt. I am providing this document for women who want better levels of protection than are currently available. All I ask is that you give recognition for the design if asked and provide it free to others. While I am happy with people distributing this document, it is a freeware design. If you want to make money, then please develop your own. All materials are easy to obtain, the main ingredient is a thermoplastic called Polymorph which can be easily bought online. I hope you find these instructions useful and that they allow you to enjoy HEMA safely for years to come.

Step 1.

Take your polymorph and place in a pot of water. Be sure to cover the all polymorph with water. Turn on the heat. You will know the polymorph is ready, when it becomes clear and the beads starts to stick together.

Step 2

While I did not do this myself,  it is probably a good idea to cut out a rough pattern of the area you will be covering. If you do not wish to do this, measuring the approximate area to be covered will save time later.

Step 3

The person to use the shield later wears an appropriate sports bra or similar garment they normally train in. Wrap their upper body in clingfilm.

Clingfilm wrap

Step 4

Take your heated lump of polymorph out of the water and put onto a board to roll out into shape with a rolling pin.

Rolling out the polymorph

Step 5.

Now take your flattened piece of thermoplastic and spread it across the area to be covered. If you have measured your piece out, you should now have a single layer of thermoplastic covering the front of the chest. This is the key part of this design; the  thermoplastic is mouldable while it is warm. Paying special attention to the contours of the body, shape the polymorph to their chest! It will take a few minutes before it starts to harden, but the faster you work the better.

It is much easier to to make holes at the top of the chest piece where the shoulder straps are going to be fitted before the plastic hardens.

Moulding the front to the body

Step 6

Now you have the front piece done, it is time to add the side pieces. Again, you should measure the area you are going to cover first. Get another ball of softened polymorph and roll it out into the shape and size to add. Whilst still hot and soft, add it on.

The polymorph will immediately start to bind to the front chest piece, so you only need to worry about trying to get a neat fit.

As above, it is a lot easier later if you make holes for the back straps at this point. If however you do not, you can simply dip the section where the holes will be back in hot water to re-soften, so you can cut out holes.

Step 7

This is a personal preference again. My fiancée wanted a bit more protection below the breast, so I added a strip along the bottom of the entire protector to give protection to her solar plexus and upper abdomen. The soft polymorph will bind easily to the pieces already there. After all pieces were hardened, I added additional strips over the seams to reinforce the joints. You probably do not need to do this, but I wanted  extra strength and it used very little polymorph.

Step 8

After constructing the  protector  it is time to move on to  padding. The padding I used was a foam camping mat, the likes of which can be bought for less than €10. The correct size and shape was cut out remembering to cut notches, so it will fit inside the cups nicely.

Step 9

You have to glue the padding to the inside of the chest protector. I know other groups used double-sided adhesive tape to stick this type of padding to armour. I used a spray-on contact adhesive. Use whichever adhesive you find easiest to work with. The only tricky bit is making sure the padding attaches smoothly. So you may need help holding it in place as you press it against whatever adhesive you decide to use. The finished product after this step should look something like this.

Once the glue has dried, you  trim the edges. An advantage of spray-on contact adhesive was that I could roll the padding over the edges for added protection against the edges cutting into the torso.

Gluing the padding on

Step 10.

You are now ready for the final step which is adding elasticated straps. I used two back straps with clips to close them and two shoulder straps. We found it impossible for my fiancée to pull the protector over her head, due to the tight fit and her large bust. So this is why we added clips to the back. Depending on your body shape and how tight you want the fit, it may be possible to just use elastic straps, which allow you to pull the protector on over your head. The final straps looked like this.

Adding the straps

Step 11

My beautiful fiancé, Suzy, modelling the finished product.



It is a fairly simple process to make a properly fitted chest protector. All you need is a few inexpensive materials, some time and a close friend to get the fit right. While I designed it for women, there is no reason it could not be used for men, too. The finished product is an extremely solid, bespoke piece of protective equipment, which  does not interfere with movement and is not a “one size fits none”!

My fiancée is a 32 E cup with 40 cm shoulders. I used approximately 850 grams of polymorph to create a chest protector about 1 cm in thickness, which is probably thicker than you need. The polymorph was ordered on Ebay, the straps/clips bought in a textiles shop, the camping mat at Argos and the contact adhesive in a local hardware store. In total the entire cost of materials was approximately €30. The polymorph can be reused many times. If you make a mistake and the polymorph hardens, simply reheat it and it will go soft again. You can do this as many times as you have to until you get it right.

Good luck making your Boob ShieldTM!

I would like to thank my fiancée Suzy for agreeing to model for me during this process and for correcting the English in this guide.

All photos by Neil Byrne, apart from title photo by Suzie Cantrell

The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Esfinges.

IGX 2016 – A Quick Impression


By Leslie Rose


I left the Danvers Indoor Sports Arena on Sunday late afternoon after three days of intense immersion in my HEMA world. I threw a wistful glance back towards the door. I was really ready to enjoy sunlight again and not have those weird little rubber balls and green Astroturf bits from the floor all over me, but I was already missing too many people. Many had already left to drive or fly home and now the rest of us were heading out to the Yard House for the final dinner together.

Heading home in autumn sunshine. Photo by Leslie Rose


My impressions from the whirlwind that was IGX: Staffing the tables. Smiles. Laughter. HEMA hugs. Jeff Tsay smiling a lot. Interesting conversations. Good classes to attend. Cutting tournament and clinics. Light sabre fights. Scythes. Quick attacks. Slow motion replays. Swords, daggers, rapiers, sabres, bucklers. The “Ching ching” of weapons clashing. The bruises proudly shown. Some stitches, minimal bleeding. People speaking English, Russian, French, Slovokian and German and still being able to understand each other. The solidarity of it all.

Swords and shields. Photo by Dana Crowe


The people who were responsible for this lovely long weekend, to name a few, were Jeff Tsay and the Forte crew (Don Kindsvater, John O’Connor, Paul Ilardi, Andrew Shultz) and also the Boston Armizare crew (Will del Solar, Karna K) and the Athena crew (Steven Hirsch, Julie Olsen, Andrew Kilgore et al). Rebecca Boyd did her organizational magic all year leading up to this point. Natasha Darce’ was there with her table of lovely wares for us to try out and purchase.


Wow. IGX is five years old already, and this is my fourth one. I took a class and half, staffed tables for two days as time keeper or scorer, got to try out some new stuff and cheer on a ton of friends I know in their bouts. I’m looking especially at Harold F Vance III, Sue Buzzard, Julie Olson, Sandra Coyne, Anton Kohutovic and John Morahn. I had to talk with some people who needed a shoulder to cry on or vent to, too, but that was seldom. Sometimes someone has to be the HEMA Mom at an event. I sat over on the side and took pictures a lot, but I am finally able to pick up the sword and train again.

Classes were offered that dealt with I.33, body mechanics and structure in fighting, Scythe fighting etc. I say etc. because I missed some things and also some instructors could not attend due to Swedish Flu and Matthew, the Hurricane. Two days later and I am still sore from Anton Kohutovic’s structure and mechanics class.

Scythe workshop. Photo by Leslie Rose


This year was the first year that the Wisdom League was introduced; this group is comprised of individuals who are 50 years or older and its founding was requested by Bradley Rangel. Frankly, us older people cannot keep up with those 10-30 years younger than we are and this gives us the chance to have a good chance of advancing through the pools! There were about 80 attendees this year, fewer than there were last year, but we did not run late in the pools and there was no live feed to hold us back, either.


This year a lot of Esfinges members attended. Marie, who was attending, asked me what Esfinges was after she saw my Esfinges tee shirt and I gladly explained to her the group that is ready to help with questions, advice, humor and hard work that is by women, for women. She was immediately interested. I told her “There are quite a few here this weekend, you should introduce yourself and talk to them!” I pointed them out and realized that since I started at IGX, the number of ladies attending IGX that I know from this group has grown. And that made me feel good. There could have potentially been more, but there is also a wealth of other events to attend nowadays and they were either busy with non-HEMA stuff or were at those other events.


Attending were Rebecca Boyd, Julie Olsen, Sue Buzzard, Sandy Coyne, Char Morgan, myself.


Six! Six Esfinges in one place! So Marie asked to join and then there were seven.


I really like IGX. It’s my “hometown” event and was the first one I ever went to. I don’t care for the venue much, as it is an indoor soccer arena, but there is plenty of space and Jeff is able to rent it for us. I have spent so many hours walking in the place and learning edge alignment, new techniques, old techniques rethought, new weapons. I’ve had wonderful conversations about everything from medieval stick fighting to how to babysit a HEMA baby. I didn’t compete but I was able to see so many good fights because I staffed tables. I saw bouts where people met in the ring as combatants and left the ring and went back to just being good friends. There were a lot of funny moments. The time Greg hit Harold’s metal codpiece and it went “TING!” and we all laughed, or the time both combatants went down in a throw and their swords went flying out in perfect arcs to land beside them. And there were also somber moments, but mostly the laughter won out. And the cries of “Hey! I did the thing! And it was fun!” and then everyone rallying around with congratulations.

Complementary congrats desert for the winners. Photo by Leslie Rose

I can’t wait for IGX 2017.


The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Esfinges.

Making Your Own Armored Skirt

By Lois Spangler 


If you’re like me, then most HEMA apparel is not made to fit you off the rack. You can custom order garments, which can be risky if you’re on a different continent from the people making your armor and you find you need some adjustments, and is also quite expensive.

Your other option is making stuff yourself.

Here’s the thing: I have never made a garment by myself. I hadn’t used a sewing machine until this project. And I had never worked with patterns or with planning a garment until this project. So to be completely honest, this is more of a process than creating and following an actual formula. The construction of the armored skirt is meant to be pretty forgiving, unless you’re particular about it looking meticulous.


You can skip this section if you want to go straight to the instructions, but if you want to learn more about my thought processes regarding this skirt, read on!

I’d seen the SPES armored skirt and wasn’t quite convinced. I know that it does its job reasonably well, but I was concerned about the lack of greater protection for the inner thigh (and, let’s be honest, he crotch area), and I know from experience at tournaments that the D-ring closure never stays fastened for any reasonable length of time. It consists of two large panels that meet in the front of the skirt and a smaller panel that sits behind the larger ones, situated in the gap between them.  It can, for some, be a little heavy, since the panels are made of layers of fabric.

So I poked around for two historical styles of upper leg armor: the pteruges (the leather strip skirt used by Greeks and Romans), and the Japanese haidate (which sometimes has a small number of large panels, but later examples have more panels, like the one in the photo.

By Yonge, Charlotte Mary, (1823-1901) – Project Gutenberg’s Young Folks’ History of Rome, by Charlotte Mary Yonge [1], Public Domain,
By Samuraiantiqueworld – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The pteruges didn’t cover enough, but I quite liked the look of the haidate in the above image. So I through about how I could make something similar to it that was relatively straightforward to construct and solved the problems of the SPES skirt: inconsistent coverage, problematic closure, weight, and potential size issues.

I decided I wanted fabric panels that overlapped each other significantly, addressing the coverage problem, but didn’t want to make the panels out of layers of fabric to help keep weight down. So I envisioned fabric pockets that could each hold a panel of rubber foam. These panels could then be sewn to a belt made to any required length, and the belt could be fastened using a plastic side release buckle on an adjustable strap, making sure the belt stayed secure through rigorous activity.


Personal measurements

These are the measurements you’ll need to make your belt:

  • Waist or hip circumference (around where your skirts or trousers sit, or where your hips are widest; you can err about 5-7 cm on the side of shortness; the plastic clip and strap will cover the distance)
  • Distance from top of waist to where you want your skirt to end (I picked just above the knee)

Required materials

This is what you’ll need to make one belt:

  • Cotton duck or canvas fabric (I needed 3m at 125cm wide)
  • Several spools of strong polyester thread (I probably went through 100m of thread. Honest.)
  • Rubber foam mat (if you’re using yoga mats, use stiff ones, and you’ll may need more than one; I used a $40 AUS workshop floor mat that comes in around 0.75 cm thick, and measures 1.2 m x 2.4 m and will easily have enough to make another whole skirt and a pair of vambraces from the leftovers).
  • Plastic side-release buckle
  • Nylon strap of matching size to the buckle (mine was 250 mm)
  • A sewing machine robust enough to sew through 4-6 layers of thick fabric (this is easier to find that it might seem)


The skirt is made in six steps: the belt, the panels, attaching the panels to each other, attaching the panels to the belt, attaching the plastic buckle, and then cutting and placing the rubber mat into the panels. I go through the process in this order, but I advise reading the entire construction section at least once before proceeding. This order made sense to me, but it might not be the same for other folks. And there’s no wrong way to do things if you end up with a piece of equipment that serves you!



I wanted my belt to be about 5 cm (2 in) wide, but I also wanted the belt to be thick so it would hold up the panels properly. I went with four layers, and made this belt this way: I cut a strip of fabric 110 cm long (I was looking for about a 44 inch waist) and 20 (8 in) cm wide.  If you imagine the 20 cm side with marks every 5 cm, you want to fold the right side of the strip at the 5cm mark, and the left side of the strip at the 5 cm mark. This leaves a sort of book-like arrangement with two 5 cm flaps folded over and meeting each other in the middle of what is now a 10 cm wide strip of fabric. With that done, you fold the fabric in half, lengthwise, leaving you with a four-layer, 110 cm strip of fabric.

I sewed along the length of the belt about five times, or with one seam every centimeter.



This is the hardest part of the skirt, so please bear with me. First you have to determine the width of your panels, which relies on two things: one, your belt length, and two, achieving a balance between a useful width (not too narrow or wide) and making sure you end up with an odd number of panels in total.

I figured this out for me through trial and error, and by drawing a whole lot of sketches to help myself understand. I can’t find my original sketches, but I redid some of my math and thought processes; they’re included below.

The best overlap pattern is one where more of a panel has overlap that does not. For example, if you have a 5 cm panel, 2 cm should overlap neighboring panels, and 1 cm should remain in the middle, with no overlap. You can make things mathematically easier by just dividing your panels into thirds, but I’ve found that having a little more overlap offers more protection without hindering movement.


An odd number of panels is best. This is because the front of the skirt will always feature one panel in the very center (covering the crotch directly). This panel should overlap (as opposed to “underlap”) the two panels directly next to it. This provides better coverage and it offers better freedom of movement. Not once did I get caught up in my panels during or out of combat.

I ended up with nine 8-inch panels, which, when overlapped, came to a total of 48 inches in length. Though my waist is about 44 inches, I went ahead with the 4-inch overage because I knew I could backtrack the male part of my plastic clip and let the back of my skirt overlap itself when clasped shut. It was a risk, but it worked out really well and didn’t get awkward, as far as I can tell.

In metric, my panels were about 20 cm. The top 3 cm of the panel were meant to be anchored to the belt, and only one layer of the panel would be attached, to leave an opening for inserting the foam rubber pieces.

One more thing: The panels are not rectangular – they taper from bottom to top. How much they taper is up to you, but I kept mine pretty mild. They went from 8 inches at the top to 10 at the bottom.

Okay! With all of that out of the way, here’s what you need to do.

  • Draw a pattern
  • Cut the fabric to the pattern
  • Sew the panels themselves

Draw a pattern

Just like it says. Grab a piece of paper and with a ruler, draw a shape that looks like a slice of pizza with the tip cut off and the crust trimmed to make it straight. For me, I drew a shape that was 8 inches wide at the top, 20 inches long, and 10 inches wide at the bottom. And then I added a half inch to all sides, because you need at least that much for seam allowance. So, the shape in total was 9 inches wide at the top, 21 inches long, and 11 inches wide at the bottom.

Once you’ve drawn the pattern and are happy with how it’s looking, cut the pattern out of the paper. Then pin the pattern to the fabric. It makes sense to pre-cut portions of fabric for the pattern, to make it easier to apply and then later cut.

Cut the fabric to the pattern

This is one of the more onerous parts. To make things easier for me, I made sure that the portions of fabric I had pre-cut for my panels measured 11 inches wide and 42 inches long. This was so I could skip a bit of sewing by letting the fabric fold in half to make the bottom of my panel. This way, instead of sewing two separate pieces of fabric together into one pocket, I simply folded a piece of fabric in half and just sewed up along the sides, leaving the edge opposite the fold open, to insert the rubber foam and be able to attach the outside of the panel to the inside of the belt.

Anyway: take your fabric, preferably long enough to take the paper pattern when the fabric is folded in half, and pin the paper to the fabric. Then cut around the paper. It’s annoying, yes, but it’s got to be done.

Sew the panels

I cheated a little here. Usually, when sewing fabric, you need to hem the edges so the fabric won’t fray. I gave enough seam allowance and used a small enough stitch that the body of the panels will probably have no problem. But I did have to hem the top parts of the panel to keep them from fraying. I freehanded it (and I’m a total beginner), mainly because I just wanted to get things done, and because I wasn’t concerned with the interior of the skirt looking pretty. I did the hemming for the panels once I’d turned them outside-in (so the seam allowance fabric is on the inside of the panel pocket), but you can do it whenever suits you.


Attaching the panels to each other

You don’t have to build the skirt like this, but I did a lot of freehanding (as in, didn’t pin things down before running them through the sewing machine) and it seemed like the safest way to do things in my mind. I started with one panel, then attached the front of another panel to the rear-facing side of the front of the first panel, then did the same on the other side, using the overlaps already mentioned. This gave me three panels, with the center one over the two side ones.

From there I attached a panel to the forward-facing side of the front of one of the side panels, and did the same for the other side. I continued adding more panels until I ran out of them.

This is a pain, but not as big a pain as actually building the panels.

Attaching the panels to the belt

Back to the belt! I freehanded this, but went slowly enough that I could adjust alignment as I went along. All I did was sew the connected panels to the interior face of the belt (really, it’s this process that decides the interior face of the belt – before that, there’s no difference on either side).



Attaching the plastic buckle

This is where you can fine tune the fit of your skirt. I had a bit more belt length than I needed, to account for the width of my panels and the need to have an odd number, so I attached the male part of the buckle away from the end of the belt. I placed the female end of the buckle close to the end of its side, so this allows the male side of the belt to slide under the female side and still ensures a good fit. Interestingly, I find the skirt works best if I loosen the buckle a little, close it, then tighten it to a snug fit.

It’s important to remember that you have to thread the male part of the plastic buckle with its strap before you sew the strap onto the skirt, and it’s helpful to look at an installed plastic buckle on a store-bought bag or similar, to make sure you thread the strap correctly. (That’s what I had to do, at least.)




Foam rubber padding

I had to do a little trial and error to find what worked best. Because my hips flare out to 56 inches from a 44 inch waist, my rubber padding doesn’t fill the entire fabric panel (the panels ramped off my hips and looked like a goofy tutu when I tried it). You’ll have to do some trial and error, too, to find what works best for you.

I marked the rubber mat with chalk, and cut them with crafting shears (the rubber’s a bit too much for your everyday scissors, unless you have mighty hands). My rubber padding pieces are about an inch narrower than my fabric panel at the bottom and the top. It’s not hard at all to get the rubber into the pocket, either.





Because I chose cotton duck, once I take out the foam rubber padding, I can just chuck the skirt in the washer and not worry about it. You might need to touch it up with an iron if it dries funny, and I recommend not using a dryer and either laying it flat to dry, or hanging it up.

Closing statements

This is not a quick project, but it’s not overwhelming, either. You can do a lot of these things while watching TV or whatnot, or have friends over to chat as you work. It probably took me 20 work-hours total, but that includes trial and error (I installed Velcro closures that I didn’t actually need) and me getting up to speed with using a sewing machine.

This project has given me the confidence to try other things, like custom-made vambraces, or maybe even gauntlet modifications to existing gloves. I’ve got enough fabric, and I have plenty of foam rubber left.

Skirt in action at the right. Photo by Adamare Creations

Tea and Swords: The Birth of Irish HEMA

Written by Suzy Cantrell

HEMA in Ireland is quite young, especially when compared with other countries such as the United Kingdom and Sweden. There have been individuals attending various events over the years but it wasn’t really until 2011 when a group of us went over to FightCamp that we decided we really wanted to get things established. Myself and my friends had all been involved in reenactment for several years by this point and grown a little bit complacent with the combat within it. Our group had always been quite small and as a result we tended to favour one-on-one fights, which didn’t always fit with the larger reenactment events we went to. HEMA seemed to very much satisfy that and from that event we were hooked.

The Irish keep coming to FightCamp – here in 2016. Photo: Frank Haj

It took several gruelling meetings with other HEMA groups that we found around the country where we hammered out the fundamental points of what we would need, all while drinking insane amounts of tea, the tea was the important part since we’re Irish. (Go and watch Father Ted if you don’t believe me). People travelled from all over Ireland and over the course of several trips to tea houses we discovered that we all had similar dreams and ideas on how to progress things. Neil Byrne began as the first President of HEMA Ireland with Mike Prendergast as Secretary and Adam Duggan as Treasurer. Neil Byrne and Matthew Malcom were the first to become certified as HEMA instructors in England and have since been helping the other clubs reach a high standard of coaching and safety. As of now there are several clubs scattered throughout the country in or close to the major cities in Ireland so if you’re visiting there will be a club near enough to you.

We try to run regular tournaments, sparring weekends and workshops in various places around the country and invite everyone along. All of us are friends and whenever anyone organises anything, we all try to be as supportive as possible. Regardless of how long anyone has been running their club, everyone in Ireland still tends to consider themselves to be beginners, especially when at events in other countries with longer HEMA traditions. However some people have been beginners for five years or more! In workshops everyone always likes to stress that whatever they are demonstrating in a particular play is merely their interpretation, but not necessarily THE ONE TRUE WAY.

Speaking with other clubs in different countries, people always seem surprised and describe the Irish HEMA scene as being “so well organised” for such a young group of clubs, but honestly I think this is simply because the people at the forefront trying to establish HEMA in Ireland looked to the countries with older HEMA communities and robbed all their best ideas drew inspiration from them.

One benefit of having such a small community is that all of us know each other well and also  know that if one club falls out with another club, they suddenly lose a significant number of people they can spar with and learn from. Ten people may not seem like a large number but in a pool of approximately 100 people, every single person counts.

Sword and tea – the perfect combination. Photo: Fran Terminiello

Something I have always been proud of is our sportsmanship. Most, if not all fighters will call shots on themselves in a tournament, even if it costs them points or an opportunity for a medal. It can, however, lead to the following situation:

JUDGE:  Hit! Point, Red.

RED:  Oh no, I got hit as well.

BLUE:  Did I hit you? It was barely a tap though!

RED: No, you definitely hit me.

JUDGE: Yes, but it was flat and out of tempo, so point, Red.

RED: But ….. But….

JUDGE:  Go back to your corner and take your damn points.

Unfortunately I am currently the only woman in my club and while we did have another woman last year she sadly had to go home to Australia. In my experience all the clubs have been extremely inclusive and have strived for equality and every time we meet we always hug it out. Thankfully I am not the only woman in HEMA in Ireland, however, and each year at our main event Féile Na Gaiscígh (translated it means Festival of Warriors in Irish) there is a Women’s Longsword Tournament which has always had enthusiastic participants. I’m not being subtle about plugging this event by the way, you should go because it’s awesome. It takes place in an old seminary college on the north side of Dublin, and is full of wonderful workshops, in traditions such as 1.33 Sword and Buckler and Lecküchner’s Messer, as well as a variety of tournaments. Don’t worry we will warn them next year in advance so they don’t run out of craft beer or good whiskey, I promise. And each year we’re always really happy to see more people. While at foreign events I have had men comment that they don’t feel comfortable fighting women as they aren’t used to it but thankfully that has never once happened in Ireland. Truthfully, I’m not used to fighting women either so we have that much in common. Sure it’ll be grand!

Actually that’s our attitude to everything. I think the worst argument I personally have ever seen was over what colour jacket we wanted people to have. Green is often the colour most associated with Ireland, but historically the colour has actually been blue as the ancient flag for the country was a gold harp on a blue field. I think that’s the most contentious thing we’ve had to deal with so far in the approximately four years HEMA Ireland has been active!


Visit HEMA Ireland


The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Esfinges.

Bigfoot in Seattle – Beth Hammer talks about Swordsquatch 2016

Tell us a bit about the PNW Gathering for those who are outside the US or may not know about the event.

The PNW HEMA Gathering started in 2010 as a small get together in someone’s garage, followed by beer. Since then it has slowly grown as a yearly gathering for the clubs in the Pacific Northwest aka PNW. This region includes Oregon, Washington, Northern Idaho and British Columbia. When society falls apart we will all band together to form the great nation of Cascadia where we will thrive on our abundant natural resources and vast knowledge of craft beer brewing.

Women’s longsword eliminations

What was the reaction when Lonin League got nominated to host this year’s PNW Gathering?

We weren’t so much nominated as we had the most people actually interested in putting it on this year and no one else objected. But we were a very enthusiastic little posse and we had a lot of fun ideas we wanted to make happen. Things really got exciting when we ended up booking SANCA (the circus school we train in) as the venue. That opened up a ton of opportunities to show off our space and the uniquely Lonin things about our club.

What was your role in the event?

I was one of the four core organizers. Leigh, Aidan, Erik and I started on this adventure back in January. This was an amazing team and we all worked together incredibly well and naturally fell into each of our roles. Erik ran the tournament, including judging training and recruitment. Leigh rocked the socks off administrative stuff and all the social media. Aidan wrangled vendors and recruited our amazing lineup of workshop instructors. I did all of the graphic design/website, budget coordinator, set the schedule and general wrangler of the event.

What’s with the name Swordsquatch?

Mostly just that we are giant dorks.

Early on we decided to rebrand the event to go along with the new direction we were taking things. One of our major goals was to create an environment that wasn’t solely focused on the tournament. We wanted to keep things hella fun and uniquely Seattle. Also we have a problem with puns. Someone should probably hold an intervention.

… if you’re asking literally what’s a Swordsquatch that would be a mashup of “sword” and “Sasquatch” aka Bigfoot.

There’s some pretty rad promotional artwork, and those medals are unique. Can you tell us about who made these and the concept?

THANK YOU That was all me (except the t-shirts, designed by the wonderful Pat Jenson) I wanted to break away from the standard HEMA photos and HEMA black so the only possible solution was neon pink and monsters.

The medals started from the concept that “we fight with steel, our medals should be steel.” Also I like playing with fire and chemicals. I went through several iterations on the design playing with the shape and the layout of the swords and mountains and tiny squatch. The medals were cut out using a waterjet (thank you, Rusty Oliver of Hazzard Factory). I then used the toner transfer technique to iron on a laser jet print out onto the blank medals, then drop them in a bucket of acid for 20 min. Finally with the help of local knife maker Hazel Zel Margaretes of Sideros Design, we used a blowtorch to get the different colors… also I may be an overachiever.

Swordsquatch medals

What are your three favourite moments from the weekend?

  1. Handing out the prizes for Bigfoot Brawl. — The BfB was our diabolical plan to get people to spend more time free sparring. We had a space dedicated all weekend to open sparring. We weren’t recording winners, only who fought who and what weapons they were using. No rules other than to negotiate with your partner the level of contact and keep it safe. By the end of the weekend over 200 matches were fought! We saved our best prizes for the the person who fought the most number of unique opponents and for the person who used the most variety of weapons. Moses Jones and Matt Mawhirter spent most of the weekend in the Brawl and were just awesome. They both had basically the same numbers with 76 different opponents and 27 different weapons used. They each took home a sharp from Angus Trim.

  2. Flying Trapeze — We train in a circus school and mostly just get to watch as they play with all the fun toys and jump on the trampolines. But we finally got our turn! SANCA has recreational trapeze set up where anyone can get on and fly. We had 3 hours blocked off for everyone to get a chance to have a go and OMG it was so much fun. I went several times and got to learn the second trick where there is a second guy on the other trapeze and you hang from the bar on your knees and then he grabs your hands and then you’re just swinging from him. It was super mega awesome.

  3. Getting to cut with Angus Trim’s 2-handed falchion — Sunday we had a big cutting party outside where we finished off the unused tatami and made a giant fruit salad. Gus made this SUUUUUPER awesome sword that is just made for taking off heads, it’s beautiful, he graciously let me cut with it and it was so good. It was also my first time cutting tatami — super fun.

    Cutting at Swordsquatch

What piece of advice do you have for first-time event organizers?

Teamwork. This event was a complete team effort. From the leadership on down everyone was in it together. For our core team this meant seamlessly picking up the slack as life got hella real — there was a ton of illness, death and a major surgery — but we all were there for each other and kept encouraging one another and kept going. When we started expanding our team we gained some wonderfully capable people who jumped in on our vision and did their jobs wonderfully. And at the event everyone including those who weren’t official volunteers were always ready to help and be apart of what was going on. We created an environment where everyone wanted things to go well and were invested in making it work.

Also plan the shit out of everything *before* the event and then when it’s actually go time, chill and roll with the punches. And having 16 backup plans for every piece of the puzzle is also useful.

Golden Finnish – interview with Sara Vertanen

“I stabbed and I won” Sara fighting at Swordfish 2016 Photo by: Tapio Väänänen

Written by Claudia Krause

Sara Vertanen, 21 year old longsword champion from Finland, has been more than successful in the last 12 months. In 2015 she won the women’s longsword competition at Swordfish, our unofficial World Championship. This year she became Nordic Historical Fencing League Champion of the women’s longsword division, with a very clear margin. Just yesterday she scooped up a gold in the Dutch Lions Cup. How did she become such a dominant longsword fighter in Europe? Sara isn’t exactly dying to give impromptu interviews. Some may have noticed that she did not appear in the Swordfish live-stream for a statement after her win. However, she kindly answered some questions on-line to enlighten us.

Sara was born in Jyväskylä, a city of just under 140,000 inhabitants in central Finland, about 234 km (145 miles) from Helsinki, as the crow flies. When she  first came in contact with HEMA in 2011, Sara was no stranger to sports.  She had played Finnish baseball for 6 or 7 years, and was still training volleyball regularly . When a classmate in  high school found an advert for a beginner’s course with the JHMS (Jyväskylä Historical Fencing Club), several friends, including her, signed up.

She was still training with JHMS, when Eliisa Kuusama (then Keskinen) sent her a message 2 weeks before the 2015 Helsinki Longsword Open. Eliisa Keskinen is a household name known to many, as two time gold medalist in  women’s longsword at Swordfish herself, vocal supporter of women’s tournaments in HEMA, instructor at EHMS and contributor to the Nordic fencer blog.

So when Eliisa suggested she might be interested in the women’s longsword competition, Sara said yes. That was her first time in the arena. She didn’t start by winning all her pool fights, let alone getting anywhere near a medal. But she ended up fighting all Nordic League competitions that year, all the while making visible progress.

In autumn last year she moved to Espoo, near Helsinki  to start a 3 year degree course in security management. It was mere coincidence that Eliisa happened to follow the same course, albeit in a different year.  Alternatively, we speculate, there must be something about the longsword inspiring this choice of career…

Espoo is a large city next to Helsinki. Together with yet another city, Vantaa,  they are referred to as “capital city area”.  Espoo is  also home to one of Finland’s most prominent HEMA clubs, the EHMS (Espoo Historical Fencing Club).  EHMS was founded and originally located in Espoo, then relocated to Helsinki. This caused some consternation regarding the “E” in the club name, but attempts to change it failed. Presently training has moved to Espoo again, which has resolved the the name conundrum for now.

Whatever its name troubles, EHMS is certainly known for first-tier HEMA competitors and instructors. Besides Eliisa, Kristian Ruokonen has scooped  many medals both sides of the Atlantic. He was one of the major players in causing a minor identity crisis in US HEMA by dominating the competitions a few years ago at “Longpoint”, the largest international HEMA event in the USA. It is fair to say, he is equally feared and welcomed in HEMA circles wherever he goes.  Matias Parmala, Sara’s principal coach, is not only co-founder and instructor of the EHMS, but one of Finland’s finest longsword fencers. Illka Hartikainen heads a whole host of excellent swordfighters of the Bolognese tradition. This  environment has proven very valuable to her. She is rarely thoroughly satisfied with her own performance and has experienced “dry spells” where she did not quite enjoy training or competing.

“Luckily I have a very supportive club full of inspiring and talented people. That motivates me to keep on practicing. It also helps that I have a very good coach, Matias. He was coaching me through this year’s  Nordic Historical Fencing League. He has pushed me to my best performance yet and talked to me whenever I was ready to quit.”

This year’s NHFL competition provided quite a mental challenge for her: “After winning the first competition I thought that I might have a tiny chance of winning the whole league. When I got bronze in the third competition in Copenhagen I actually calculated many, many times what needed to do to still win the whole league. I found it very challenging to keep my head in the game. And yes, it was extremely rewarding to step on the podium after the last league competition, Sweden Open, as overall  winner. It felt like that my training had gone in the right direction.”

Smile of a winner Sara with all her Nordic League Medals Photo by : Christopher Warelius

As it turns out, she would have needed to do nothing after the third competition to emerge as overall winner. But instead she won gold in the Sweden Open as well. That is nothing if not true dominance. But it is very comforting to know that even outstanding fighters suffer from the  self doubts and “nerves”.

And Sara has her share of it: “I do stress a  lot about competing and  being successful in it. It’s easier to not stress if you don’t go. But I always  find myself signing up in the end. To be honest, I hate competing, but at the same time I love it. It is hard to explain, but some kind of love hate-relationship.”

Sara  told us that competing itself has changed her attitude to training. She trains harder to learn new techniques to a level that she can use them with an uncooperative partner. She also has started to run and lift weights, in order to become “the best fencer she can be”.

So what does she think are the most important attributes to become a good  HEMA fighter?

“First of all, you must be passionate. You have to be prepared to spend lot of time  training. You have to have patience and be hard headed, even, because there will be times when nothing is working and you feel like you’re stuck.”

But Sara does know that nobody is an island, and hastens to remind us:
“From personal experience, no one can become the best  HEMA fighter they can be on their own. You need to have good, reliable support behind you. Those who push you all the time to perform even better. You also have to be humble. You can’t always win.  Someone will eventually beat you.”

Sara has stayed humble herself. As formidable as she is as a fighter, as personable and calm she is in real life.  We wish her a long and happy HEMA career, both in and out of the arena.

She wouldn’t humour us to invent a battle cry for herself, because “I’m a Fin. I don’t show that much emotion”. We, however,  will be sure to cheer plenty for her, next time we see her fight.  It turns out she has registered for swordfish this year again.  The Swordfish life-stream is a definite possibility then!


The author of this article is wholly responsible for its content.

NHFL men’s and women’s divisions in 2016

Originally published 1 November 2015

By Fran Terminiello

The Nordic Historical Fencing League will have mens and women’s longsword divisions in 2016, says Kristine Konsmo, senior NHFL committee member and familiar face in the International HEMA tournament scene.

Kristine has been a part of competitive HEMA for some years now, famous for winning the open sword and buckler in Swordfish 2010, and winning or refereeing many high profiled matches since. This year she took over as senior instructor at Fekteklubben Frie Duellister in Norway.

Following on from her thrilling Swordfish rapier and dagger final against Piermarco Terminiello of the UK where she achieved silver this weekend, Kristine issued the following statement:

“In the very first NHFL season there were 4 tournaments. In them, 5 women competed a total of 9 times. One woman competed in all four tournaments.

In the second season we started a women’s division. While there were only 3 tournaments that year, we still had a total of 16 women competing a total of 33 times, and 8 women competed in all three tournaments! This year’s Swordfish has the biggest women’s tournament in its history, and many of the fencers from the league have been competing here this weekend.

Due to the nature of the team competition, women were forced to compete in either the mixed or the women’s tournament, and not a single woman competed in either of the mixed tournaments.

There was clearly a demand that we were meeting, and it was also clear to us that there was no real need to keep the mixed tournament open to women.

That in and of itself was no reason to close the mixed to women, but unfortunately, some people kept comparing the results in the women’s to the mixed, and calling the mixed “the true test of skill” and otherwise disparaging the results of the women who competed there.

We feel like this is a way of denigrating the efforts of the women who participate in the women’s tournaments. To further emphasise the hard work and amazing progress made by women fencers over the past year, remove what we consider an unfair comparison between the genders, and to create the best possible environment for further growth in the women’s tournaments, we have decided that next year’s NHFL will no longer have a mixed division, and instead be separated in the women’s and the men’s. The team competition will continue as previously.”

The news will be welcome by many women on the competition scene, and is bound to cause controversy elsewhere. Some may see it is a sign of the ‘mainstreaming’ of HEMA, whether that is for good or ill is a topic for debate. One thing is for certain however, we are seeing more women in HEMA competitions.

Link to original article