Why I Practice HEMA

I started regularly attending True Edge South, a HEMA club, back in August. For a while I only went once a week, but I’ve started going as often as I can (which is only twice a week, but that’s twice as much as before!) Doing something two times  (for a total of four hours, plus a few hours of personal practice) a week may not sound like it would effect your life a lot, but I’m finding that I get lots of benefits from it. I’ll start with the more relatable things, and then dive into the personal dorky stuff toward the end.

First of all, it’s good for my body.

I’m not an extremely outgoing person (you may have noticed how dorky the topics I write about are), and so I have a hard time wanting to do things like going to a gym or going for a jog in public. Attending True Edge South has given me a way to get active in a way that doesn’t feel uncomfortable to me. This club has no elitism, no strong egos, and, in general, always has made me feel that–as long as I’m working with the club–I can go at my own pace and be as bad as I need to be. It’s been great, because I tend to self judge a lot, but knowing that nobody else is judging me mitigates that voice inside that tells me that I suck too much to even try.

My body is already feeling the positive effects. Before I began attending, my lower back and hip would ache for no dang reason. Additionally, I was starting to grow a nerd gut and I would sometimes feel breathless at stupid times. Since attending, my back and hips no longer ache, my gut has receded slightly, and I have way more energy than I used to. If nothing else, HEMA is a great workout that literally anyone could get into just for their health.

Second, True Edge South makes me feel like I’m a necessary part of a community.

I don’t feel like I’m just being put through the system, but that my attendance (even if I do nothing more than participate in the day’s curriculum) is important and valued. Feeling wanted is a great thing, and the people at my club have been the best at letting me be myself while making me feel like a part of the community.

That feeling is amplified when I help out. I had an unnecessary feeling of pride when I paid my club dues. I find myself hanging around after practice just so I have the opportunity to put stuff away, or getting excited about attending tournaments just to do trivial tasks (or do nothing at all except represent the club by being there). There aren’t a lot of things in life that give us the opportunity to feel like we are necessary contributors in a community, and True Edge South has allowed me to experience that feeling.

Third, the club fulfills an important social function for me.

I’m not a loner, I have several friends and I am on good terms with most of my coworkers, however, after graduating school I’ve noticed that there’s a kind of social interaction that I’ve been missing. I miss the spontaneous exposure to new people, I miss seeing new faces, watching how new people move, listening to new voices. True Edge South attracts a lot of interesting, curious people who may come just once to check it out, or who come many times. It allows me to meet new people in a natural, pleasant way and helps me avoid the social stagnation that I was beginning to slip into.

Fourth, HEMA challenges me in a unique way (slightly dorky).

I spend most of my time either performing creative tasks or in complete leisure. I’m either coding, writing, drawing, or something else creative. When I’m not doing that, I’m playing Zeld… I mean, I’m playing a wide variety of different video games, or watching My Little Po… That is, I watch TV made for adults with adult things.

My point is that HEMA allows me to focus my attention in a way that is neither high intensity, open form creative, nor completely mindless consumption. I can focus on specific things and track my progress as I practice. I don’t have to invent solutions, I don’t have have to worry about figuring out the problems, or just turn my brain off. I can just focus on executing as well as possible. It’s a kind of slow burn, low intensity concentration that allows me to relax while still pursuing a goal that I find meaningful. I really love that there’s a club near where I live that provides me with this kind of mental outlet.

Fifth, history is cool (getting dorkier).

I like history. I like learning about how people used to live, what they thought about, what they were scared of, what made them happy. I like learning about lots of different people. I’ve studied–though I would never say I’m proficient in–six different languages (French, Russian, Japanese, Welsh, Shoshone, and German, if you were wondering), and I took an elective Chinese history class in the history department for history majors (my degree is in Computer Science) just because I wanted to understand Chinese people better. Learning about people in other places, cultures, and times is a passion of mine.

What I like about HEMA is that it gets you down in the action of history. You’re not just looking at history, or thinking about history, you’re actually living it. You get to be a part of a tradition that comes down to us through the ages. You get to connect back to people who lived six hundred years ago in a much more real and visceral way than you could get by going to a museum or by reading a book. You get to learn what they did, perform the same actions, live a small part of the life that they lived. Thinking about it is making me emotional.

Sixth, HEMA is self actualization (severe dork warning).

I have been fascinated by the image of man bearing a sword since I was very young. I don’t know if it was an inborn archetype, or if I was programmed  by my mother’s intense love of Camelot (1967, Warner Brothers). Regardless, at a very young age I told my parents that I was going to grow up to be a knight, and I consumed literally any media with a sword in it. Since that young age, I have associated the sword with self actualization. Protagonists carry swords. People who get stuff done have swords. The sword became, to me, not just a weapon, but a symbol of assertive action toward one’s goals.

I’ve wanted to learn how to use a sword for pretty much my whole life, and I asked my parents to let me do fencing lessons, but my mother was opposed to me learning any martial skills. Eventually, I found other ways to occupy my time and other ideas of what it means to be a self-actualizing person, but the image of the swordsman always remained in my mind. For me it’s connected to something deep and primal that I can’t seem to cover up or replace with more “civilized” pursuits.

When I started doing HEMA I would come home happy, and for a little while I assumed it was for the first five reasons I listed here. While those definitely help, I think the biggest thing is that deep down, I WANT to be a swordsman. I WANT to feel assertive, self-actualized, and like the protagonist of my own life. For me, swordsmanship allows me to feel that way.

And that’s what practicing HEMA does for me. I’m so happy that I got over my anxiety and finally decided to become a regular member of True Edge South, and that the instructors (I’m talking about you, Chad) take so much time and effort to make the club happen. It’s been a great blessing in my life, and it’s made me a happier, healthier person. Thank you all for being so great, and I’ll see you at the next practice*.


* But not the one after that because I’m going out of town 😛


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