The Modern Study of Renaissance Martial Arts
...History, Heritage, Exercise, Camaraderie, and Self-Defense.

No one living today, fortunately, has personal experience in fighting against others trying to kill them with Medieval and Renaissance swords or weapons.  No one relies on personal skill with them for real self-defense any more.  But this hasn't diminished their fascination...nor the belief that people still really know all there is about them.

Of actual Medieval and Renaissance martial arts, no living tradition or extant school or style of historical fighting skills –as practiced and taught in those periods –has survived intact to our present time.  As well, no 18th or 19th century schools and masters of fence retained the old skills of earlier arms and armor in their curriculum nor did any of them claim to.  Rather, they more or less professed a new refined and “superior” method of gentlemanly self-defense directed toward the single combat conditions of the duel of honor –with decreasing military application. 

Today’s modern fencing styles –based exclusively on the three tools of foil, epee, and sabre –derive directly from these 18th and 19th century patterns.  For many decades these formed the basis for most all approaches to studying any methods of Medieval and Renaissance fencing, particularly systems of theatrical choreography and stage combat theory.   Alternatives seldom ranged far from attempts at historically inspired tournament games and martial sports or thinly disguised and repackaged Asian martial arts. 

Our wish is not to merely understand their craft from a technical or academic point of view, or merely demonstrate as show or stunt what we think their movements were like, but instead to develop from their methods genuine martial understanding and practical fighting ability.

ARMA members are proponents of the fact that historical European combat skills from the 13th to 17th centuries were sophisticated, highly developed, and highly effective fighting arts the equivalent of any comparable martial disciplines produced in Asia.

We must “reconstruct” and “revive” these arts because the “tradition” in this case has been lost and formal transmission of skills from teacher to student irrevocably broken.  While academic study is an integral part of historical fencing activities, as martial artists ours is a decidedly hands-on physical pursuit and our goal is to develop personal fighting skills.

It goes without saying that today Medieval and Renaissance martial arts cannot be earnestly studied or taught within the same historical context under which they originally developed.

This is because not only do we not fully know what all that entailed, but we also: no longer live in a feudal community or city-state, no longer engage in judicial combats or duels, and we no longer prepare to go to war in the same manner. The craft of Medieval and Renaissance martial arts today is not a matter of life-and-death and in a very real sense in our current age we cannot truly approach nor appreciate it in those terms.  General misconceptions about Medieval and Renaissance martial arts (derived mostly from TV and movies), combined with the convincing teachings (and commercialization) of traditional Asian martial arts, lead to an unwarranted and dismissive view of European weaponry and fighting arts as crude, unsophisticated, and brutish.  

Few ordinary people today for example can possess or even hope to obtain an actual antique Medieval or Renaissance sword in prime condition.  Very few people have a real idea of their true attributes or qualities and instead must unfortunately form opinions based on experience with fakes, props, and replicas whose quality ranges from above average to just plain bad.  Add to this the poor example European swords and fighting skills receive in popular media, the hype and mystification enjoyed by Asian swords and weaponry in contrast, and the level of misunderstanding over this subject is then no great surprise. 

Recently, in the last few years a new approach to this subject has taken hold: one which relies solely on study and interpretation of Medieval and Renaissance fighting manuals as the source material for reconstructing these legitimate martial arts.  Just a few years ago you would not find uniformed groups of serious Western martial artists training with confidence in organized classes and following the historical texts. Now such phenomena are becoming more and more accepted as the only way to proceed through practice with accurate reproduction arms and armor.  The study and practice of historical European martial arts has without a doubt entered a new era. In a short time this process has produced within a small community considerable insights and advancements into historical European fighting skills. While there is still far to go, the day have changed from when historical European fighting skills were represented solely by people dressing up and playing pretend or holding demonstrations consisting of mere choreographed events and fantasy games.   Gone is the time when blind speculation and fictional systems were the rule of the day and borrowing from sport fencing and Asian fighting arts commonplace. In their place we have instead the newer problem of developing accurate understanding of the techniques and methods within the period source manuals.   More and more now accurate and reliable information is becoming available. Many of the old myths and erroneous misconceptions are fading away.

Probably the worst error made by modern writers is that of Medieval and Renaissance combat systems were merely collections of “tricks” unconnected by any larger system.  The old view was that they consisted of just separate techniques that had been found to work.  This is untrue. There are certainly many examples in the source manuals of techniques described without having specific names or without being placed into a wider context or methodology. However, the concepts and principles the source manuals elucidate on the pragmatic nature of fighting with diverse swords and weapons, in or out of armor, make clear a systematic approach to fighting was well as Art and Science underway. 

What Are We Doing and Where Are We Going?

Today we find ourselves in a new age of discovery, a Renaissance of the European martial arts.  Old superstitions and outdated beliefs are being challenged by new scientific knowledge brought about by the rediscovery of old texts. 

Due to the rediscovery in recent years of forgotten, lost, or previously unknown European works concerned with self-defence and the handling of arms –particularly swordsmanship, we students of the subject find ourselves in a period of rebirth.  Like the carvel ships that took explorers abroad the oceans, we now have our computers that sail the Internet opening routes of communication and trade to bring together a vast community of practitioners, amateur researchers, and historians questioning the outdated assumptions of traditional fencing and who are eager to relearn and bring to back to life our lost martial heritage.

ARMA seeks genuine understanding of historical European fighting arts within a modern incarnation. Our efforts are not aimed at adapting historical techniques and teachings to sporting competitions and tournament games.  While we are doing far more than costumed role-play or performance displays, we are admittedly not doing training for real combat either. After all, no one today is going to attack us with swords out in public or challenge us to duels.  But to build a new tradition, as best we can we approach these combat skills as if they were intended to be used.

Just as the priest and master of arms Hanko Doebringer's in his writings on the teachings of Master Liechtenauer in 1389 complained of the Leichmeisters ("dance masters"), an insult for the show-fighters who instead of knowing the real art only used flashy and ineffective technique for display, we to feel this problem is still with us today. Doebringer stated the reality of swordsmanship was serious and proceeded on the closest and shortest way, quickly and readily; when one wants to strike and thrust in the surest manner as could be done. He noted that rightful swordsmanship did not have any beautiful and broad parries and large motions or fencing around, to impressed unskilled observers people. The Leichmeisters he observed stood still and made large motions slowly and clumsily, creating two or three strokes out of what was really one because they want to be respected by those who do not understand the art, so that they often delayed and missed and in the process exposed themselves. His comments are very telling to us who have criticised the ubiquitous lack of martial intent and authenticity in theatrical combat and modern stunt fighting shows.

csr14.jpg (18912 bytes)Rather than trying to fit what we know about period combat into a preconceived pretend version of it, we instead integrate what we learn about Medieval and Renaissance fencing into a system of training and practice that includes mock-combat. In contrast to the 18th century definition of fencing as essentially the art of single sword duelling, ARMA accepts the definition of Medieval and Renaissance fencing as it originally meant in the periods: armed combat skills which always incorporated close-in and unarmed techniques.

The ARMA is not concerned with exclusively knightly tournaments sports or later gentlemanly “duels of honor”, but with the whole panoply of personal fighting skills of the period from roughly 1250-1650.   The sheer enormity of this subject and its transitory nature, as more material and accurate interpretations appear almost monthly, means we simply cannot be as precise or firm as we would like. Nor can we address every facet of the subject from every historical master’s view.  What we can do is offer a reliable starting point and a sound means by which to study. 

foyeld2.jpg (19769 bytes)ARMA endeavors to avoid the commonplace “museum curator” approach to historical fencing which treats it as a fossilized cultural artifact.  ARMA uses as its model not only the German Fechtschulen and English fighting guilds of the 16th century, but also follows as its inspiration the first historical fencing enthusiasts who did much to legitimize the subject –the late 19th century British practitioner-researchers Captain Alfred Hutton, Egerton Castle, Sir Frederick Pollock, Captain Carl Thimm, and Colonel Cyril Matthey.

messers2.jpg (14483 bytes)It is an axiom of martial arts and historical fencing that only a master or a very skilled fighter can check all the faults that a beginner is liable to make when learning.  But no one alive today knows what Medieval or Renaissance styles really looked liked nor how exactly they were passed on. Obviously there are no living historical masters today around to teach us. Yet, if we carefully study the illustrations in the surviving texts, translate their words with precision, and interpret both based on a sound understanding of how the weapons in question can actually be employed, then the historical techniques and principles of the source manuals are not difficult to reconstruct.  We seek not to produce students that are technically proficient in movement patterns yet tactically ineffectual as fighters. We seek instead the meaning of the authentic historical teachings…and through analysis, a modern way to practice them once again as credible martial disciplines. When it comes to Renaissance martial arts, we concluded, authenticity does not exist unless we now reconstruct it. This, then, in a nutshell is what ARMA does.

To this end, ARMA…

           - Maintains a network of individuals, students, and Study Groups studying Renaissance martial arts.

            - Promotes research and scholarship into historical fencing and European martial culture.

            - Promotes free-play / sparring guidelines for fighting practice.

            - Encourages training and test-cutting with historically accurate replicas of European swords and weaponry.

            - Advocates open dialogue and exchange among martial artists, fencers, researchers, historians, and re-enactors within the Historical Fencing community.

            - Offers a resource base for the study and translation of historical European fighting manuals.

            - Holds classes, workshops, and seminars, as well as offers lectures and demonstrations.

            - Offers members a proven system of study that is martially sound and historically valid.

What does it mean to practice Renaissance Martial Arts?

The historical fencing movement has gained great momentum in recent years, as more and more serious students have rediscovered the original historical manuals and realized their value as unparalleled sources of study. The old orthodox view of fencing history is fading in light of a new generation of historical European martial arts practitioners aided by advances in scholarship and communication.

To explore and learn our subject requires we conduct pure research and experimentation in the investigation of European arms and armor and their use combined with honest supposition, conjecture, and analysis.  For the purpose of developing training sequences, drills, and practice routines we define terminology and identify essential principles and concepts from historical fencing manuals. These efforts aim at establishing a new pedagogy of instruction or Medieval and Renaissance martial arts as combative skills instead of martial sports. Our perspective is that of training and instructing. Hence, in our modern practice now we explore them and try to master them as if they were really intended to be used –even though we realistically know this will never be the case. 

The domain of Medieval and Renaissance fencing today involves a multitude of proficiencies. These teachings must be studied within their own context, following conditions approximating those they were originally practiced under, and using weapons and equipment of the same historical styles. The sophisticated fighting skills of the 13th to 17th centuries were highly developed and effective.  To learn them again requires considerable research and physical effort that cannot be acquired except by pursuing them along a similar historical manner.

While the motivation for studying this subject will surely be different for each individual, certain general elements can be identified. These skills are obsolete for modern war and duelling itself is a thing of the past, however there are still genuine self-defence components to be learned. There are of course strong health benefits to be derived from the exercise, stress relief, and physical and mental conditioning found within martial practice.  Improved physical fitness and mental well-being as well as character are all well-known aspects of the pursuit of fencing or martial arts. Additionally, within Medieval and Renaissance fencing there are other elements at work such as gaining an appreciation for our Western heritage and history and the ingenuity with which our ancestors met adversity. Finally, the camaraderie found in learning and playing together with fellow students cannot be denied.

Thus, the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts is an educational non-profit organization dedicated to the study and practice of historical fencing and the exploration and promotion of our Western martial heritage. The ARMA focuses on the interpretation and legitimate reconstruction of Medieval and Renaissance combat systems as a modern discipline. The ARMA’s efforts are directed toward resurrecting and recreating a legitimate craft of European fighting skills in a manner that is historically valid and martially sound.  Join us in exploring and reviving an exciting world of history and culture! 

Programs and Efforts

The ARMA represents a modern effort at researching, reconstructing, and resurrecting a legitimate craft of Medieval and Renaissance martial arts. ARMA material is based exclusively on documented Western martial culture and experience in handling real weaponry. Effort is directed at an approximation of historical fighting skills through a curriculum of interpreted techniques, principles, concepts, and methods for using swords, spears, shields, staffs, daggers, and grappling arts. The ARMA therefore views historical fencing from the perspective of the art of using all arms.

The ARMA System is founded upon an appreciation of the context under which European combatives of the Medieval and Renaissance era existed. The ARMA recognizes that fencing of earlier centuries was a martial art in the truest and original meaning of the European term –armed and unarmed fighting skills so named for the “Arts of Mars”, Roman god of war. ARMA’s Training Methodology emphasizes the “Martial” in martial arts, and does not suffer the pretense of posing and pretending.

ARMA practice reflects that while later fencing became synonymous with gentlemanly duels of the single-sword, historical European martial arts represented a diversity of sophisticated and highly effective styles using a variety of weaponry and armors for war, judicial combat, and personal self-defense. ARMA classes reflect understanding that all-out the life or death fighting of Medieval combat and Renaissance frays, rencounters, and streetfights are far removed from the more limited academic fencing of both 18th - 19th century gentlemen and today’s sporting styles.

The ARMA attempts to provide students and enthusiasts with realistic and effective understanding of martial skills, and not merely interesting intellectual recreation or academic demonstration of period styles. The subject is viewed by ARMA as a means of appreciating our martial heritage and its ingenuity, the adversity of life in earlier ages and the need for practical self-defense, as well as developing our fitness and character.

We offer a Member Training Program of Workshops and Seminar classes in Renaissance martial arts designed for both novice enthusiasts and serious practitioners.  See also Students and Ranking Within ARMA. We provide a private Member’s area of study material sand training aids.  We also feature a Youth page to help educate kids and teens under 16 in Chivalric values and develop interest in the positive aspects of the martial heritage of Western civilization.

ARMA is no mere “Internet network”; it is a truly international organization with students or members across North America and in several countries studying under a proven system of historical fencing practice.  Members hold as objectives: researching, conducting mock-fights, and sharing experience, insights, and practice opportunities. A major ARMA goal is to reclaim our martial heritage from its myths and misconceptions.  ARMA is not a fantasy society, role-playing organization, or theatrical-performance troupe. These activities are contrary to sincere pursuit of a genuine martial discipline. We don't pay lipservice to the source teachings of our craft and then do displays and fighting games, we try to revive the lost tradition as a modern discipline.

The ARMA system for study of Medieval and Renaissance fencing, as presented in classes, seminars, and the National Training Program workshops utilizes the our Study Approach and Training Methodology within the ARMA System. In simplest turns, the ARMA Study Approach is the reliance upon the source manuals of the historical European Masters of Defence as the sole authority for reconstruction; the reliance on historically accurate replicas weaponry; and trust upon hands-on interpretation using all of these. The ARMA Training Methodology is the use of wooden weapons (wasters) and blunts for exercises and drills; the use of padded-weapons for free-play (or contact-sparring); and the use of sharps for test-cutting practice.

The overwhelming evidence persuasively convinces us that historically, training in Renaissance martial arts involved a number of key practices: the first, partnered exchanges of attack and defense sequences in order to learn the fundamental execution of core movements with regard to certain key principles of fighting; the second, exercise repetitions of techniques in order to strike strongly and quickly with accuracy; the third, conducting forms of play-fighting in order to acquire adversarial counter-timing, the perception to be deceptive while not being deceived, and a grasp of the tactical application of techniques; and the fifth, performance of combinations of actions in a open-ended chain of spontaneous movements so as to demonstrate coordination and fluid motion. This then, is the central effort of ARMA's system and curricula.



Note: The word "ARMA" and its associated arms emblem is a federally registered trademark under U.S. Reg. No. 3831037. In addition, the content on this website is federally registered with the United States Copyright Office, © 2001-2022. All rights are reserved. No use of the ARMA name and emblem, or website content, is permitted without authorization. Reproduction of material from this site without written permission of The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts and its respective authors is strictly prohibited. Additional material may also appear from "HACA" The Historical Armed Combat Association copyright © 1999-2001 by John Clements. All rights are reserved to that material as well.