The ARMA’s History

The first incarnation of our historical fencing organization grew from an original conception as a loose umbrella organization that would allow various Medieval and Renaissance sword practitioners and students of European arms & armor to train and practice together. The ARMA was previously known as “HACA” - The Historical Armed Combat Association. HACA was originally first conceived around 1991 by the late Hank Reinhardt, then President of Museum Replicas Limited, and a few like-minded fellows outside Atlanta, Georgia. His idea was to provide an umbrella organization for individuals seeking some sort of group affiliation to share their common interest in Western swords and historical weaponry. Hank was not concerned with how people organized or what individuals called themselves whenever they got together. As he put it, all he cared about was the rules they sparred under and the historical and physiological basis for them. He also envisioned a way to provide martial instruction in historical European weaponry. To this end, Reinhardt advertised his newly formed group around a few of his long-time associates and then made mention of it in the Museum Replicas Limited catalog. For a small fee interested persons could obtain a membership that included sparring guidelines, networking, and information on future events for certifying weapon proficiencies.

Due to various complications, time constraints, and assorted other reasons, Hank was unable to follow through on his ambitious plans. By 1993, after almost a decade of exploring similar pursuits and seeing that the unique HACA idea was essentially defunct and going nowhere, long-time sword enthusiast and practitioner John Clements (later ARMA Director) obtained from Hank permission to take over HACA effort and try to make something out of the concept.  Via correspondence John had begun a mentoring process of sorts with Hank in 1991 and already had been growing increasingly distressed at the emphasis on role-play and fantasy in virtually all practice of Medieval and Renaissance fighting arts. Hank Reinhardt gave his blessing John to create something out of the original HACA idea.

Determined to bring greater legitimacy and credibility and a serious martial approach to historical European fighting arts, Clements (who had been studying the subject since 1980 and publicly teaching classes since 1992) re-formed HACA and developed the first small Study Group to actively promote the concept.  Under a new set of Affirmations and with a new Study Approach, HACA was reinvented as a club for research and training advice. By establishing a virtual headquarters online in 1996 as one of the very first historical fencing websites, HACA was then able provide a haven for similar students and scholars of the subject worldwide. Throughout the 1990’s HACA then became a leading force in the revival of Medieval and Renaissance fighting skills. HACA’s contribution to the subject has been significant and its influence notable and many of its innovations have become standard for enthusiasts and practitioners. Following this association’s steady growth was impressive.

When John Clements first took over and reconceived HACA in 1994, he did so as a means of focusing effort on studying the works of the historical Masters of Defence and resurrecting their arts, rather than just creating new modern conceptions of historical combat.  He taught and wrote on the subject out of Houston, Texas starting in 1996.  The club's website (the first ever of its kind) and its program were specifically set up by Clements to aid novice enthusiasts who were training alone. Another role was to network practitioners while informing the public about the reality of historical European martial arts and its associated arms and armor.

In July of 2001, the realization was reached that the organization had outgrown the HACA label. It was determined that subject being richer and more involved than anyone previously believed and so deserved more.  It was determined that the emerging historical fencing community itself had grown and changed in a very short time---with no small way thanks to HACA. In that time HACA grew popular and became extremely influential in the historical fencing community.  The environment seven years later was a different landscape as a result. It was therefore decided that to continue to advance the subject in this new climate HACA was ready again to innovate and change the scene. The result was its rebirth as ARMA - the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts.  Clements conceived the name as an entirely original conception, a well-fitting acronym but with real-historical meaning as a word.

Having outgrown its HACA identity, it was time for our international educational club of like-minded fellows to refine, expand, and evolve into an even more effective organization for the study and practice of Medieval and Renaissance close-combat skills.  HACA referred to “historical” armed combat, yet our focus was specifically on Medieval and Renaissance periods, and it did lead to minor confusion for some. Additionally, HACA referred to “armed” combat and yet we have always included a substantial emphasis on unarmed skills. The historical material on Medieval and Renaissance grappling and wrestling arts increasingly coming to light only underscored this for us. Earlier, HACA had first been about crusading for serious treatment of European arms and armor and then aimed at recognition of the historical fighting literature as legitimate sources of study.  That being “mission accomplished, the ARMA was set up to take it from there. ARMA’s re-conceptualization was largely influenced by the work of Dr. Sydney Anglo, as presented in his monumental and revolutionary book, The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe (Yale University Press 2000).  As an official academic advisor, Dr. Anglo was instrumental in retooling the ARMA’s vision of historical fencing studies.  His research, along with other recent advances in this subject, changed the face of historical European martial arts interest and had a profound impact on the subject. 

Further, as research has shown, the connection between Medieval and Renaissance fencing methods is direct and undeniable.  In this subject the ARMA focuses on both Medieval and Renaissance eras and the two ages are not distinctly separable.  Medieval and Renaissance fighting arts are intertwined and historians find it difficult to offer a precise demarcation between them. The fighting arts we study date from at least the 13th century and show a clear continuity in principles and concepts into the 17th. Indeed, since the vast majority of our source texts are from post 1400, with the only evidence for “Medieval” systems of fencing coming from a mere two earlier texts, the phrase “Renaissance martial arts” is thus actually more fitting and accurate for this subject.  At present, when it comes to actual “Medieval” text sources, only one surviving text from the late 1200s and one from the late 1300s are known in contrast to dozens from the period 1400-1650.  Thus, the new name is not only more accurate but better suited to our function and objective.  We chose the word “Renaissance” in our title specifically because it is doubly appropriate, not only in the sense of the historical period itself, but also the idea of renewal and revival, of reawakening. The word Renaissance, meaning literally “rebirth” or “renewal”, describes the radical and comprehensive changes that took place in European culture during roughly the 14th to 16th centuries. The Renaissance is the name given the great intellectual and cultural movement which occurred in these centuries.  Rebirth was often a key concept in Medieval and Renaissance literature, which spoke of “restoration” and a “reflowering” of civilization.  This is indeed what we are currently witnessing in our subject –an unprecedented resurgence and recovery—a renaissance—in lost knowledge of historical European fighting arts!  

The ARMA established itself for individuals to pursue Medieval and Renaissance fighting skills with like-minded colleagues sharing a love for historical European weapons and swordsmanship.  Its primary aims are to advance the quality of skill demonstrated with Medieval and Renaissance combatives, offer authoritative information, and improve the relationship between practitioners and academics in order to improve understanding of these skills. A worldwide network of practitioners and researchers work toward its mission. The focus of the revamped ARMA website became that of assisting Study Groups with resources and study materials as well as promoting the credibility and validity of historical European martial arts from the Renaissance era.  Paid memberships were then offered with selected individuals being offered a variety of research materials, resources, and study aids.  Fellows were able to come together under a shared methodlogy with like-minded enthusiasts who shared the same values, motives, and goals.

The primary aims of the ARMA were intentionally at advancing the quality of skill demonstrated with Medieval and Renaissance combatives, offering authoritative information, and improving the relationship between practitioners and academics in order to improve understanding of these skills. Raising the quality of discourse on the subject of historical European Martial Arts while promoting its serious investigation was set as a foremost goal, as was promoting both interest in and advancement of the subject.  In the noise and chaos of the Internet, this message often gets lost.

This effort is offered through the ARMA’s system for historical fencing, online historical manuals and translations, National Training Program curriculum and Ranking certification, plus online forum, articles, video clips, and new training advice.  The ARMA's senior students and instructors are unrivaled in the quality of demonstrated fighting skills.  The ARMA is second-to-none is its offerings of original research, insightful essays and editorials, and free historical materials. More ARMA members have also published books and scholarly articles on this subject than other historical fencing organization.

Raising the quality of discourse on the subject of historical European Martial Arts while promoting its serious investigation has always been one of our foremost goals, as has promoting both interest in and advancement of the subject.  In the noise and chaos of the Internet, this message often gets lost.

The ARMA has garnered a reputation as the leading source for this craft and the foremost proponents of historical fencing studies. The future holds exciting possibilities as ARMA attempts to bring greater structure, credibility, and authority to the pursuit of authentic Renaissance fighting arts.  Now, more than ever, the ARMA is the cutting edge in the study and practice of Renaissance martial arts.