• T.P. O'Dúnín


Continuing on the HEMA theme, I thought I’d delve a little deeper in to some of my experiences.

Most martial arts that I’m familiar with run tournaments of one sort or another, and HEMA is no different. Put a group of martial artists in a room and inevitably some will want to test their skills. I think it’s natural to want to compete, although personal reasons may vary. Some like to show off, some like to measure their level of skill, others see it as another form of training, and some do it for fun. I tend to see tournaments as another way to train, while also considering them to be fun. I’m not all about the winning, which is good, as I’m hopeless!

Speaking from personal experience, Irish HEMA tournaments tend to be run in the same general way. Several pools of fighters compete, two fighters per bout, to get out of the pools stage. A bout usually consists of five exchanges, and an exchange stops when the judge sees a hit. An exchange could take anywhere from three seconds to a minute or two. Points are awarded based on the rule set being followed, which may differ from tournament to tournament, and the next exchange is run. Points are added up and a match winner is announced. Once the pools are completed, the top scoring fighters advance to the final matches, and before too much longer we have a winner. Due to word count constraints I’ve had to make it sound much drier than it really is. Once you’re familiar with the rules, it’s very exciting to watch.

Taking part in a tournament is a very exhilarating experience. It is sometimes bewilderingly fast and over before you’ve managed to process what’s going on, and sometimes it’s moving carefully, slowly, searching for that perfect moment. Regardless of how it looks from the outside, there’s a strong mental aspect to each bout. You must go into each exchange with a plan, otherwise you’re reacting, and if you’re reacting then someone else is dictating your actions. It’s hard to win if you’re only reacting. Of course, not every plan will work, but if someone is going to hit you, at least make them work for it!

As for what it’s like, wearing the gear. To start, the protective gear, consists of a fencing mask with back of head protection, a gorget for throat protection, a fencing jacket, gloves, elbow and forearm armour, knee and shin armour and, for the gentlemen, a mandatory groin guard. Ladies are encouraged to wear chest protection. All of this is of course checked by competition officials at the start of the day. Safety is most definitely our number one priority. Wearing it is hot, and tiring, but without it you won’t be competing, and it soaks up impacts, keeping you safe. It is a full contact martial art after all and some impacts, without the protective gear, will break bones. At the end of a tournament, you may be a little bruised and battered, but the way I see it, each bruise I get is a lesson to learn and I think that’s healthy.

So, if you do decide to have a look at HEMA, don’t worry, everyone flinches the first few times they see a training sword coming straight at their mask. And if you decide that Tournaments are not for you, that too, is perfectly fine. Come join us, we have cookies! T.P.

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