Historical European Martial Arts

ABOVE: 400 Years of Rome in Britain (Left to Right) – 1st Century Imperial Roman Legionnaire (Lee Harste), 3rd Century Roman Auxiliary Hadrian’s Wall Garrison (Paul Orehosky), 5th Century Romano-British War Lord (K. Ken Johnston)

Historical European Martial Arts ,or HEMA, are martial arts of European origin, particularly using arts formerly practiced, but having since died out or evolved into very different forms.

Combining experimental living history use with the study of historic primary source documentation (printed/written material, artifacts, artistic representations) History Now’s Ken Johnston uses the practice of HEMA in stage combat/fight choreography, interactive public history presentations, and programs for education.

A unique area of focus for History Now’s HEMA programming is workshopping with and instructing actors/performers in the concepts, physicality, and material culture reality of Historical European Martial Arts in relation to character development and to the practice of staged combat choreography and performance. For any production making use of historical arms/armor – and especially in performing the works of Shakespeare – examining why a character uses a specific weapon or wears a specific armor, why the weapon/armor was chosen in the historical context of the play/work, and then allowing the actor to actually wield and wear accurate reproductions of arms and armor leads to a better understanding and implementation of character movement, physical projection, and textual relationship – which in turn enhances the individual performance and overall production.

Some of the organizations, productions or events for which Ken has used HEMA include English Heritage United Kingdom (11th Century Living History Combat Demonstration), The University of Georgia’s Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library (HEMA in the works of Shakespeare), Library Knights of Pendragon (16th Century Full Contact Joust), Colonial Williamsburg (18th Century Fencing Program), George Washington’s Mount Vernon (18th Century HEMA Living History), Georgia Renaissance Festival (5th/11th/15th/16th Centuries Living History), Georgia Shakespeare Festival (Stage Combat/Fight Choreography), Alabama Shakespeare Festival (Special Event Stage Combat Entertainment), Braselton Renaissance Fair (11th and 16th Century HEMA Demonstrations), and the Georgia Medievalist Society (16th Century Academic and 11th Century Living History Presentations).

Colonial Williamsburg – Teaching 18th century Small Sword technique

George Washington’s Mount Vernon – Choreographed Demonstration of 18th century Fencing technique

Braselton Medieval Faire – Interpretation of arms/armor and demonstration of movement/technique

Hands-on Interactive Experience – Faire guests receive instruction in weapons use/safety, don protective equipment, and try their hand at HEMA

Georgia Renaissance Festival – Taking a lance hit during the Joust

Shakespeare’s Soldiers Program – Braselton Medieval Fair and Whitewater High School; dressing volunteers in the arms and armor of characters from the plays of William Shakespeare

Braselton Medieval Fair – Choreographed Demonstration of Spear and Shield technique

Whitewater High School – Historical European Martial Arts in Stage Combat technique