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Swords, Cutting and Military History

Historical European Martial Arts and test cutting

Historical European Martial Arts and test cutting

photo by Luminitsa

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The last decade has seen an upsurge in what is being called Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA), or the Western Martial Arts.  Students of history, delving into private collections and uncatalogued manuscripts held by numerous libraries and museums, have discovered — or, more to the point, re-discovered — the training manuals and instructions written by Medieval and Renaissance masters of sword and combat.

The documents showed that weapon masters of those times taught a complete range of combat arts, including both weapons and unarmed combat techniques of surprising sophistication and effectiveness.  Using these manuals as a guide, practitioners across Europe and North American have opened schools teaching a range of historical swordplay. An excellent documentary on the subject is “Reclaiming the Blade” (available via Amazon Instant Video and iTunes)

Another introduction to the topic is provided by Iron Door Studios web documentary “Renaissance Martial Arts”;  following is part one of a a ten-part YouTube documentary, all of which can be seen on Iron Door’s YouTube channel.



National and international organizations have developed which oversee these groups, provide information and resources, and organize competitions.  These groups include the:  Historical European Martial Arts CoalitionAcademy of European Medieval Martial ArtsHEMA Alliance, Western Martial Arts Coalition, Association for Historical Fencing, along with others and a vast number of individual studios and groups which teach various forms of historical swordplay.

Cutting pumpkin

photo credit E Monk

Unsurprisingly, the practice of test cutting is very popular within this community.

The types and styles of weapons used by Western martial artists in test cutting are only limited by the ability of the smiths and foundries which supply them; weapons of all nationalities and time periods are being produced by numerous specialty weapon shops.

Test cutting a variety of targets provides not only a way to show the effectiveness of the weapon itself, it also assists the practitioner in developing a more effective fighting technique, as commented on in the following video:


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