What is the goal?
That is it. That is the question. Let me explain why it is so useful.
HEMA is a term that encompasses a vast array of different activities. You can define them by era, weapon, tradition. That gives you only a partial answer to the question of what you are doing.
To complete it, you have to ask yourself why you are doing it.
My answer is this – I want to understand and learn the methods historical people used with their available weapons.
My way is, of course, not the only way.
There are people who want to understand one group of sources – the same tradition or the same weapon – and fence according to the presented style, like Ilkka Hartikainen with the Bolognese swordsmanship, Ton Puey with Destreza, others with Fiore or KdF.
There are people who study styles that are rare or very specific – and with a good foundation in some of the main weapons, that is very fruitful.
There are people who use the treatises to train fighters the best way they can for modern tournaments.
There are people who, like me, train a few different traditions, but are extremely careful not even to compare and contrast them. Others mix them to a confusing degree. I am not a fan of either extreme.
Some people put historical accuracy on a pedestal to a pedantic and ridiculously inflexible degree. Some ignore it altogether. I prefer the middle ground as well.
In fact, we can all do all of this to an extent and have common ground.
And there are people with goals so different, your common ground is only in an empty theoretical discussion where you almost talk different languages.
Usually, they are people who want to emulate a treatise as close as possible to what is depicted and to a formalised level that falls apart under pressure.
They most often venerate a mediaeval source as these have less clarity and often exhibit stylization in the images, including a lack of good anatomy and unrealistic depictions of actions and movements. Sources like I.33 are the biggest offenders, but also to an extent early German sources in general and even Fiore to an extent.
Trying to look exactly like the depicted fighters in those sources often leads to weird, unnatural body positions and equally stilted, wide and imprecise actions. You cannot contort yourself through a bent mirror and expect not to come out distorted on the other side, to quote my instructor.
Because wanting to emulate characters from a book is often closer to LARP, these people more often dress up in historical garb (which is awesome out of this context) and invent fantastical and baseless theories based on that.
That also leads to constantly demonstrating without protection and consequentially out of distance and without any intent to hit, which creates another distortion.
That eventually makes slow speed fencing a standard instead of a useful tool among many. All fancy, just-like-the-manual stuff falls apart at speed, so let’s never increase the speed.
Consequentially a special set of body mechanics arise that work only against people willing to fence in the same manner. And stuff never really works outside of the bubble. The style is encapsulated.
Now, let me describe another goal. A guy wants to fight with medieval weapons but modified so they can be used at full speed, without thrusting, against another who wears a heavy and modernized historical armour. Winning is by putting the opponent down on the ground.
That’s called bohurt! Yes, it is. Yet it sounds closer to what is done by HEMAists who test their understanding of fighting under different kinds of pressure. And further away from people who do empty poses and emulate distorted depictions from centuries ago without making them work under pressure in a simple and direct manner.
But we call that HEMA – and that’s fine, the term has a life on its own. It simply means that some of us can be within HEMA, yet not really have as much common ground as we do with stuff that is not HEMA. And we can only hope everyone will be honest with his goals and what takes priority in how they do things.